Creating a Pipeline to Prosperity – Starting at Birth

By Avo Makdessian

It has been proven time and again that high quality early care and early education programs are critical for life-long success. As a result, John Pepper, the former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, calls investments in early childhood “the social, moral and economic imperative of our time.” However, statistics show Silicon Valley has not embraced this imperative.

Sixty percent of Silicon Valley’s entering kindergarteners are not ready for school. Further, half of our third-graders, and three out of four third-graders of color, can’t read proficiently. Unfortunately, research also tells us these children have a high likelihood of dropping out of high school and not contributing to the local economy.

The point here is that these unfortunate linkages of poor outcomes for kids start well before a child enters kindergarten. These indicators suggest that for too many of Silicon Valley’s children, prospects of being part of the innovation economy and sustaining our region’s competitiveness are diminished before they even get to a kindergarten classroom.

The most frequent barrier to preschool and child care is the cost, which averages between $1,200 and $1,600 per month, per child. This cost represents the second highest living expense for Silicon Valley after housing. It’s no wonder real estate brokerage Redfin has designated San José “the most expensive American city to have a baby,” and the Santa Clara County Sheriff recently observed her Department loses out on quality applicants who can’t find or afford local child care and preschool.

What can we do? The cost of doing nothing is devastating, not only to the child’s long term success, but to their family’s immediate need to balance care for their children with income and work, to the next generation of employers and local talent, and to Silicon Valley’s future prosperity.

Silicon Valley Community Foundation recently commissioned economists from the Institute for Child Success to determine the Return on Investment (ROI) to the local community if more local investments were made in early childhood programs. They concluded investing in local preschool programs would yield a conservative ROI of $4.19 for every $1 invested in terms of reduced health care costs and crime while also yielding greater earnings and more education.

Other communities have dedicated local funding to subsidizing high quality preschool and child care for decades. Silicon Valley lags in this regard behind the likes of Boston, San Antonio, Seattle, Cincinnati and New York—and we are thus at risk of losing top talent to those communities.

It’s time Silicon Valley got serious about local investments in our youngest residents to create a pipeline to prosperity from birth, and meet the social, moral and economic imperative of our time.

Avo Makdessian is vice president and director of Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Center for Early Learning.  Avo is a member of SVCF’s leadership team and oversees the Center’s efforts in providing up-to-date research, state and local initiatives, and local policy on pressing issues facing young children and their families.