On Tuesday, February 7, I had the great privilege to serve on a panel discussion as part of the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) Kidonomics Forum. The event was held at the Hunt Library on NC State’s Centennial Campus. The full agenda for the day, including significant background information, can be found on the IEI’s website at https://iei.ncsu.edu/kidonomics/.
IEI has decided to focus on the economics of early childhood education over the next two years and the Kidonomics Forum served as an awesome kickoff for the effort. I was invited to participate on a panel entitled “The Local Sandbox: A View from NC Communities”. You may be wondering: Why would a COG Director be invited to discuss early childhood education? There is actually a very direct connection between the work that TJCOG has done on its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) and the topic of early childhood education. One of the goals identified in our CEDS document was “Developing Healthy and Innovative People” with one objective being to “improve access to and quality of child care and early childhood education options”.
During the panel, I discussed with the audience how early childhood education came to have this role in our CEDS. The Triangle J region has always placed a high value on education and the region’s global recognition for strong public and private higher education institutions. These educational values have permeated from institutions of higher education into the region’s K-12 institutions and then naturally moved into early childhood education opportunities. Bottom line, the region values education at all levels and sees a distinct connection between comprehensive education and a skilled workforce. This belief in education within the region and among the very diverse CEDS Planning Committee was evident. Therefore, early childhood education was an immediate priority. If you have interest, you can read the exact language about early childhood education within TJCOG’s CEDS from the following link: http://www.tjcog.org/Data/Sites/1/media/regional-planning/econdev/workforcedevelopment-sp.pdf
Another important issue discussed during the panel links nicely to my previous blog post on affordable housing, a common topic in our office these days. Our panel discussed how early childhood education is just one important component to ensure children in our region and across the state are positioned for success. Safe and affordable housing is also necessary to make sure children can have access to quality educational opportunities. Our discussion highlighted the disturbing regional trends in which an increasing number of families are spending more than 30% of their income on housing and/or spending more than 45% of their income on housing and transportation costs. (<30% of a family with median income spent on housing is considered to be affordable) When families struggle to pay for housing and/or transportation, they are likely to also have difficulty securing early quality childhood educational opportunities. The financial stress surrounding these issues can affect children’s ability to access quality childcare and education but will also impact a parent’s ability to be productive in their jobs. This becomes a vicious cycle for families across our region. As with many of the challenges in our member communities, early childhood success is deeply intertwined with housing affordability and other factors.
Triangle J COG is positioned through our Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to help convene important stakeholders around these issues. The issues around early childhood education and affordable housing have a direct impact on our member government’s ability to compete for economic development and will remain a priority for our organization.
Thank you to IEI for hosting such an invaluable event and the continued support of our member governments on these issues. Let us continue striving to improve early childhood education for all those we serve.