When we think of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the words "mushy," "maternal," or "big spender" usually don't come to mind. That's why it was downright amazing this week when Bernanke waded into an education issue that too often gets mischaracterized as an agenda item of the "mushy, maternal big spenders."
Speaking before a New York City spending watchdog group on Wednesday, Bernanke addressed the daunting budget crises facing dozens of states. While urging balanced budgets and sound fiscal policy, he also made the case for continued investment in early childhood education, commonly known as preschool on the private side and Head Start and Early Head Start on the public side.
Chairman Bernanke is a renowned economist, a Republican, and a champion of low taxes and free enterprise. However, for those of us fighting for a deeper investment in early childhood education, his words weren't surprising. In fact, there is probably no sounder investment in America's future, our fiscal solvency, and our productivity than early childhood education.
- By age 40, adults who had attended preschool are more likely to be high school graduates, are making more money to support their families and drive the economy, and are less likely to engage in criminal activity.
- The Brookings Institute estimates that a deep and truly serious investment in early childhood education would add $2 trillion to the Gross Domestic Product within a generation.
- Ninety percent of our brain growth occurs between birth and five years of age but only 14 percent of our public education investment is directed toward children five and under.
During Washington budget battles, a common rhetorical refrain is that the federal government should balance its budget just like every family does. The fact is that almost every responsible family makes wise investments -- such as home mortgages, high quality preschool and college loans -- even if it means increased debt.
To ensure greatness for America's future, we need more elected officials to heed the words of Ben Bernanke and get behind early childhood education for every American kid as the smartest and most crucial investment in our nation's future.