Today, First Focus and our California state partner, Preschool California, hosted a briefing in Washington on the state of early childhood education in the Golden State. Panelists in attendance represented diverse, cross-sector constituencies—from other advocate groups to local business, educators, and a teachers’ union. Although this briefing was primarily focused around California state, many of the topics addressed this morning were and are applicable to early learning challenges nationwide.

Now, why is early childhood education so important that we decided to sponsor a briefing? And furthermore, why are there so many different community stakeholders concerned? While there is no short answer to these questions, I can certainly give you the basics.

Though the human brain continues to develop into the adult years, the most active period of development occurs within the first three years. Neurological research highlights many reasons high quality early learning programs like preschool and child-care are so significant. This type of care and education provide a foundation for a child’s social, emotional, and academic development. Additionally, early learning programs not only have been proven to build pre-literacy and math skills, but research also shows that students who have been privy to high caliber early learning programs are less likely to end up in special education or repeat a grade, and are more likely to graduate from high school. In short, skills learned before the age of 5, will last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, all of these incredible benefits that early childhood education affords are not getting to the populations that need it most. In California alone, less than 40 percent of low-income 3 and 4-year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs, and just 3 percent of eligible infants are in publicly provided programs.

On a slightly more macro level, early childhood education is a critical investment in our nation’s economic success. Early care and education allows for parents to work and attend school/trainings, which not only means increased income at home, but also the additional dollars that might come with employment advancement. Lastly, in the long-term, early childhood education ensures our country a competitive workforce in future years to come. High quality early care and education programs keep our families earning and our children learning, both critical for present and future economic prosperity.

For more information on early childhood education and today’s panelists: