By Guest Columnist KEVIN GREINER, president and CEO of Gas South and board chair of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education
How important is early learning? Even more than you realize.
Early learning is an industry that generates significant and well-substantiated societal benefits. Results from long-term studies like the Perry Preschool Project, the Chicago Child Parent Centers and the Abecedarian Project have documented the long-term impacts of high quality early learning programs: school success, higher achievement test scores, lower rates of grade retention, fewer referrals for special education services, and decreased likelihood of involvement in the juvenile or adult justice system.
Economists have long argued there is no greater long-term return on investment than high-quality early learning options. Business leaders have also galvanized around the benefits of investing in early learning opportunities for the families of their employees. The availability of stable, high quality child care reduces adult absenteeism at work and leads to a more productive workforce.
For many of our employees at Gas South, job performance is closely linked with the availability and affordability of care for their young children.
These long-term benefits are all excellent arguments supporting investments in early learning. However, a new study commissioned by Bright from the Start: Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) – Economic Impact of the Early Care and Education Industry in Georgia – provides even more. This has become a robust industry and an economic driver for Georgia.
The early care and education industry in Georgia annually generates $4.7 billion in economic activity while providing more than 67,000 jobs statewide. Most people probably don’t think of early learning as an “industry,” but by generating almost $5 billion in economic impact, it certainly qualifies.
New business opportunities are being created, and along with that come positions for teachers, family child care providers and staff. Incomes made in Georgia are largely spent in Georgia, which creates even more economic possibilities and prosperity in our communities. Employment fuels discretionary spending, which often means new businesses and jobs to fill consumer needs.
The newly-released Bright from the Start study finds that the economic activity generated by the industry includes $24 billion in parent annual earnings supported by the availability of child care across Georgia.
In other words, if parents have quality early care and learning options, they will work, earn money and spend it. The study further calculates that this economic activity creates $374 million in federal tax revenue and $162 million in state and local revenue.
As a nearly $5 billion industry, early learning is an economic engine in Georgia that is on par with other revenue producers – pharmaceutical manufacturing, hotels and motels, and the retail sector – such as health and personal care as well as building and garden supplies.
There is little doubt high-quality early learning is the building block for future student success. And if our students succeed, we as a society succeed and prosper.
Georgia has long been a leader in its commitment to early learning. In fact, we were the first state to establish a state-level department responsible for early learning. We must not only nurture what we have put in place, but we also must look for ways to make it even better and more productive.
In conversations about Georgia’s economic growth, policy makers often talk about how to support and promote industries such as transportation, film, and healthcare. The early care industry needs to be part of this discussion as well.
Not only does the state receive immediate economic benefits, but it will continue to realize the long-term impacts as children and families take advantage of high quality early care and learning.
As Gov. Nathan Deal continues to focus on job creation in the state, it is important to understand the role that the early learning industry plays and Georgia’s role in developing it further.
DECAL is currently hosting a series of statewide public policy briefings related to their economic impact study that I have referenced here. Please join me for the Atlanta briefing at the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot, next Wednesday, October 21, 8:00 – 11:30 a.m. to learn more and to see what you can do to get involved. Click here to register.