Why Young Democrats Should Care About Early Childhood Education

This election cycle highlights a number of critical, hot-button issues that easily spark the interest of younger, left-leaning folks like me — income inequality, racial disparities, student loans, gun control, and our collective struggle to manage Bernie Sanders' hair. With so much on the line each time we go to the ballot box, our attention is understandably split between Very Important Things.

Amidst these competing messages, however, that there's a vital issue that Young Democrats often pass by: Early Childhood Education.

I get it: many of you, like me, are childless — and prefer to keep the impending pressures of parenthood far away from our daily lives (while we still can). We remember our days in elementary school or college, and the difference that our environment and teachers made there, far more clearly than our time in preschool (if we were lucky enough to attend). Early Childhood Education can sometimes seem like someone else's problem, or a relatively luxury among the many shortfalls facing our education system.

Fortunately, research can shine a light on what we can't always see from our own experience — and early childhood programming stands out as a particularly powerful way to eliminate educational disparities, improve public health, and set our and our neighbors' kids on the path toward long-term success.

Studies show that every $1 spent on early childhood returns between $7 and $17 of benefit for society, a huge return on investment. A long-term study reveals that kids who go to quality early childhood programs ultimately earn up to $2,000 more per month than those who did not, and are more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes, and to have longer marriages.

That's a big deal, given our responsibility to provide critical opportunities for the next generation of Americans. It's especially important in low-income communities, where kids often show up to kindergarten already behind their richer, whiter peers — and never quite catch up.

I see early childhood's impact every day in my work at an organization that provides Head Start services to kids in St. Louis City, opportunities that also benefit their low-income families by offering affordable childcare and leveraging other critical financial and social services.

Alright, so you agree that Early Childhood Education matters. What can we do now?

  • An effort called Raise Your Hand For Kids will be on our ballot next fall, seeking to raise Missouri's dangerously low tobacco tax to invest an additional $250 million into early childhood health and education each year (a public health win-win!). Spread the word and show up to vote.

  • Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders feature Early Childhood Education as part of their platforms, something we can help keep at the forefront along with many local Democrats that are pushing for expansion at the state and local level. Help them win.

  • Washington University, St. Louis University, St. Louis Public Radio and other key local institutions have rallied behind For the Sake of All, a research study and public conversation about combating racial health disparities in St. Louis — which promotes investing in early childhood develop as their top recommendation. Stay informed and engaged.

As Young Democrats, we have a particular drive to create opportunities for the leaders of tomorrow (St. Louis needs many). Investing in Early Childhood Education is one of the smartest, best ways to do so. Let's get to work.

UpdatesPaul Sorenson