From the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Improving early childhood programs is a vital strategy for increasing the numbers of students who finish high school prepared to enter college, the military and the workforce, said Rob Dugger, a Virginia investment executive who chairs the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, a coalition of economists, policy experts and advocates focused on programs for young children.

Dugger recently addressed a statewide meeting of the Business Leadership Council for Pre-K, a group of Kentucky business leaders advocating for making voluntary, high-quality preschool available to all 3- and 4-year-olds in the state.

The need to improve young people’s skills is worse than many people think, Dugger said. He noted that reports from various sectors indicate that as many as 60 percent of American high school graduates are not fit for service in the military, college-level work or a job in a competitive business. Such statistics should not only prove sobering, he said, but prompt policymakers and business leaders to rethink how the country is developing its future workforce.

“America is at a historic turning point,” Dugger said. “We’ve exhausted all the fixes.” Developing a more successful system for cultivating “human capital” should spotlight the importance of stronger pre-K programs, he said. Such programs make children more ready for school and have been shown to lead to a host of better outcomes in adult life.

Kevin Hable, a Prichard Committee member from Louisville who chairs the Business Leadership Council for Pre-K, said one goal of organizing is to “enable us to create more sense of urgency.” He added that tight times for the state budget make building cooperation and volunteerism more essential.

David Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said that business leaders recognize the importance of improving education and see the logic of starting with increasing quality pre-K opportunities. “Business people can identify with this beyond an altruistic motive,” he said at the meeting. “They’ve got a workforce to develop. We’re going to need every possible bit of talent we can find to maintain the enterprises we’ve got in this state, not to mention what we have to develop.”

Adkisson said interest in pre-K issues is growing among business leaders in Kentucky and across the nation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce is encouraging business leaders to understand the importance of programs that provide high-quality learning experiences for the youngest children.

Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence