Fort Worth is fortunate to boast numerous institutions of higher learning that help ensure a vibrant local economy through preparation of an educated and skilled workforce.
Yet it’s important to remember that when it comes to influencing upward economic mobility, smart starts early. Particularly when it comes to low-income households.
While most of us may think about technical schools, colleges and universities, when the discussion turns to workforce preparedness, research proves early education is a major economic development engine.
Studies show that early education helps children avoid special education interventions, lessens grade repetition, and results in higher test scores. For each $1 invested in high-quality early childhood programs, a state economy will earn a $2 to $3 return on investment, measured by increased jobs or earnings for state residents.
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In particular, when parents from low-income households can secure high-quality childcare, it exposes children to a wider array of learning opportunities than are available at home, setting them up for higher academic and work attainment. Child care also enables parents to take on employment or pursue education that will improve their career prospects.
In short, high-quality early learning creates the necessary pipeline of individuals with the skills and abilities needed to meet the job demands of the current and future labor force.
That’s why Lena Pope and UNT Health Science Center partnered to open a new Early Learning Center on the UNTHSC campus. This year-round, full-day center for more than 80 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old helps to fill a gap in our community while providing an on-campus early learning center option for UNTHSC students, faculty and staff.
Children at the center benefit from evidence-based curriculum, both academic and social emotional, to ensure they are ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
Access to affordable, quality childcare remains a persistent concern for many parents. It can be a struggle to find available child care at all, let alone a high-quality experience. In Texas, parents now pay about the same amount sending a child to daycare as they do sending a child to college.
Fort Worth’s leaders are ramping up efforts to improve young children’s educational outcomes, including kindergarten readiness and reading competency by third grade. A key challenge to meeting those outcomes is access to high-quality early learning.
Access is a particular challenge for low-income families, which is why half of the spots in the new Lena Pope UNTHSC center will be available to low-income families who may be eligible for either child care subsidies or reduced tuition rates based on their family income. For those families who can afford it, the full tuition rates are purposefully kept below the average tuition rates of comparable, high-quality early learning centers in the area. This ensures that families of all backgrounds can benefit from the early learning opportunities at Lena Pope.
For UNTHSC students, staff, and faculty, up to 70% of the spots in the new Center will be prioritized for them, thus meeting an important goal of the institution to be a “Best Place for All”.
Other businesses, institutions, and organizations should take note of this innovative model that provides tangible benefits for their employees while providing a crucial resource for the community at the same time.
In the 2018 State of the City Address, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price underscored the need for quality child development centers when she stated that “we must provide every child with a quality early learning environment…quality, accessible child care is truly a critical workforce issue.”
A pathway is needed for more high-quality early education facilities that offer rates local families can afford. Increased capacity, such as that offered by the new Lena Pope Early Learning Center at UNT Health Science Center, will be a vital source of workforce development and improved economic mobility for years to come.
Todd A. Landry is the chief executive officer of Lena Pope and Michael R. Williams is president of UNT Health Science Center.