Opinion: Supporting Pre-K popular with voters

Opinion: Supporting Pre-K popular with voters

By: AJC

As Georgians head to voting booths and mailboxes, a recent poll says early childhood education and paid family leave are top of mind as they cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. In the fourth poll commissioned over the past decade by GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, likely voters in Georgia – regardless of party, age, or geography – say that ensuring access to child care and paid leave is as important as things like reducing the tax burden on individuals. And voters support family-friendly policies whether they have young children or not.

The high level of support for early childhood education programs is consistent throughout the poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates and Frederick Polls. Ninety-one percent support Georgia’s free, lottery-funded voluntary Pre-K. That’s up from 80 percent in 2018 and 87 percent in 2014. Eighty-five percent of Georgia voters back funding to improve the quality and availability of child care for infants and toddlers, while 88 percent support funding to help low-to-moderate income working families afford child care.

Both science and economics support the priority Georgians place on early childhood education, which has lasting impacts on later learning, behavior, and health. In the first few years of a child’s life, more than one million new neural connections are formed every second through the interaction of genes and a child’s environment and experiences. These connections build the brain’s foundation upon which all future learning, behavior and health depend. Children who receive high-quality early education are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and are better equipped for the workforce.

Early education has both short-and long-term economic benefits for Georgia. The early care and education industry creates more than 84,000 jobs and generates over $4.7 billion of economic activity annually. The availability of child care in Georgia supports annual parent earnings of at least $24 billion. Research demonstrates that every dollar invested in high-quality early education saves, on average, $13 later in reduced crime rates, lower demand for social services, and increased tax revenues.

The public health crisis has underscored the importance of early childhood education and supportive family leave policies for working parents and the economy. Voters are focused on the need for affordable, high-quality child care in order to go back to work – and family leave to be able to stay home when they’re sick or have a loved one who is sick.

As Congress considers how to assist Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia voters across the political spectrum say ensuring that working families have access to quality, affordable child care should be a priority. In fact, 86 percent indicated support for targeted financial assistance specifically for the child care industry.

Now more than ever, voters recognize the importance of early care and learning, and policies that support working families. In a divided political environment, support for early learning is consistently strong and overwhelmingly bipartisan. Sixty-five percent of Georgia voters would be “more likely” to vote for a candidate for political office who supports policies that give families more access to quality child care and preschool. If we’re going to get back to work, high-quality, affordable child care is critical. All of Georgia’s political leaders should take note.