Support early learning to achieve long-term economic recovery

Business leaders are ready to return to work. As we adapt to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, and welcome back employees and customers, the place childcare holds in our economy should be top of mind.

COVID-19 has brought into clear focus how important childcare and early learning are to the business community. Parents need a safe place to leave their children so they can return to work and stay focused on the job. And childcare that embraces the most effective principles of early learning lays the foundation for a strong future workforce.

If you are a business owner, you likely employ parents. Parents make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce. In the United States, 67% of children under age 6 have both parents in the workforce. In households where both parents need to work, reliable childcare is often the only way parents can keep their jobs.

As one of 28 Florida chairs of an early-learning coalition, I am part of an organization that helps ensure everyone in our community has access to high-quality childcare and helps parents navigate their choices. My service on the board is one way I support early-learning programs in the state.

I also recently joined the Children’s Movement of Florida’s “Bosses for Babies” initiative, which invites Florida business leaders to join the cause for early childhood education in whatever capacity they can.

There are many ways business leaders can make a difference.

We can make investments of time and money in early learning. We can volunteer in childcare centers, get involved with our local early-learning coalitions and donate to the cause.

We can advocate on behalf of early learning with lawmakers. At the state level, we should oppose any cuts to already meager early-learning budgets and support programs that help the early-learning workforce. In 2019, Florida spent just $2,253 per child enrolled in voluntary pre-kindergarten, down from $3,178 per student when our VPK program began in 2008. And we reached only two of ten early learning quality standard benchmarks. At the federal level, we need to urge Congress to pass a major funding package for the industry. A recent survey found that only 18% of child care centers, nationally, predict they can survive longer than a year without any sort of federal bailout. Unless we are ready to lose more than 80% of childcare centers in our communities, we need to act.

And we can look at our internal business policies and practices. Something as simple as flexible, or predictable, schedules or remote work—especially in the pandemic—can make a big difference for parents.

If you are a business leader interested in getting more involved with early learning, visit https://bit.ly/BossesForBabies to see how you can get started.

As business leaders, we have a strong voice. Together, we can make a difference. ♦

Aakash Patel is the founder and president of Elevate, a strategic business consulting firm providing public relations, community relations, targeted networking and social media. Appointed by the governor, Patel serves as board chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County.

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