Early childhood education is a moral imperative

This piece originally appeared in the Des Moines Register.

Last month, I attended a screening in Des Moines of the PBS documentary “A Path Appears,” which features actress Jennifer Garner traveling to rural West Virginia to see the effect poverty has on children in her home state. The documentary provides a shocking view into the lives of those who wouldn’t ordinarily receive the same opportunities as those born into a different — and wealthier — environment.

The Des Moines screening was sponsored by Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), which advocates for high-quality early childhood education. After we watched a segment of the documentary, SCAN’s president, Mark Shriver, moderated a conversation about how programs that help children help our entire community and how investing in early childhood is smart public policy.

Education is an essential step in pulling people out of poverty. It is imperative that we give children a strong start to their development as early as possible.

Though nearly everyone agrees that early childhood education is a top priority, it is often difficult to agree on how to fund it. This year in the Iowa Legislature, high-quality early childhood education was shortchanged after gridlock delayed completion of the budget. In addition, high-quality early education is not fully funded on the federal level.
We need our leaders from both sides of the aisle to prioritize our children. We also need smarter, more innovative ways to funding early learning programs.

This spring, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to achieve better outcomes by giving financial incentives to taxpayers. If passed, this legislation would direct resources to states and local communities to support innovative public-private partnerships that will tackle the social challenges most important to them. This would improve the lives of our children, while holding promise for using taxpayer funds more effectively.

Several states and municipalities are using this model and finding success funding programs, including expanding high-quality early childhood education.

Our state and our country cannot afford to continue to skimp on providing the quality education necessary for our children to succeed in life. Investing in our children will reduce poverty, change lives and strengthen our communities and our economy.

JULIUS C. TRIMBLE is bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.