Smarter investments in early childhood education will be necessary to develop a skilled workforce for the Virginia and national economies, a business leader and an economist said at a conference in Richmond on Monday.
The government, businesses, faith organizations, nonprofits and families all need to play a role in that, said Paul Koonce, president of Dominion Virginia Power.
“There is widespread consensus among the business community, and growing bipartisan consensus among public officials, that investments in early childhood are the best long-term investments we can make in our workforce, in our educational system and the overall well-being of our commonwealth,” he said.
Koonce spoke at a meeting on the economics of early childhood education hosted by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce at the University of Richmond.
Virginia’s economy will need more than 2 million new workers over the next 10 years, he said. Businesses have traditionally devoted resources to training adults for jobs, he said, “but it is equally, if not more important, for the private sector to be involved at the start of the pipeline.”
He said businesses and public officials need to consider how resources might better be allocated to serve “high-quality pre-K programs that have accountability and performance measurements in place.”
The quality of early childhood education can be linked to educational outcomes later in life, said John Weinberg, a staff economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
Nationwide, about 20 percent of high school students fail to graduate within four years, and about 40 percent of college students fail to graduate within six years, he said.
“At the same time, our country appears to be experiencing what economists refer to as skill-biased technical change,” he said. “That is a mouthful, but it just means a situation in which new technologies require more skills to operate and increase the demand for skilled workers.”
Weinberg gave a speech that was originally intended to be delivered by Jeffrey M. Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. Lacker was unable to attend because he had bronchitis.
If resources available for early childhood education are constrained, then those resources should be targeted at children who will likely benefit the most from them, he said.
“We at the Richmond Fed and many others have long argued that a more balanced portfolio of educational spending would devote more resources to early childhood education than we currently do,” he said.