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Sesame Street meets main street

Sesame Street meets main street at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri.

An educated workforce and a talent pipeline is important to KC businesses, and it starts with children who are prepared for kindergarten.

Although decades of science have determined that the first five years of life are critical in our children’s lives, our community priorities have not kept pace. In fact, on the first day of kindergarten, one in three children in Kansas City isn’t prepared with the skills to succeed.

That is a huge problem. Not only for the those left behind, but for our entire community.

Access to quality early education changes the trajectory of children’s lives – and that turns a huge problem into a huge opportunity.

Unlikely advocates

A few years back, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce prioritized quality early learning as part of its Big 5 goal “to connect every child, every family and every community with the resources necessary to launch successful educational careers on the first day of kindergarten.”

Now, the KC Chamber recently upped the ante by partnering with Sesame Street in Communities, and others, to launch Pre-KC. Pre-KC’s goal is to bring the business community together with families so that we can all work toward quality early learning experiences.

Why business loves Elmo

So, why do businesses in Kansas City care so much about early learning? It’s because they know quality early learning programs are a proven way to ensure that students start school ready to learn and succeed. Just a few years ago, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made the case that quality early learning was key to economic growth for cities. Researcher James Heckman has studied the return on investment in young children and makes a strong case for a community to prioritize early intervention.

Sesame Street in Communities (Kansas City)

Beyond the economic benefits to the community, there are life-changing benefits to the child. Quality early education programs benefit all children, but have an outsized impact on families from lower income brackets. Rather than arriving in kindergarten at a deficit, this early quality intervention can level the playing field and sets the student up for education success. The benefits persist far beyond elementary school: Long term studies demonstrate that quality early education pays off by reducing juvenile delinquency, addictions, school dropout rates, learning disabilities, obesity and other problems.

The Kauffman Foundation is a member of the Early Education Funders Collaborative, a partnership of 12 philanthropic organizations in Kansas City. The funders work together to support improvements in early education that increase quality opportunities for families in metro Kansas City.

And while Kansas City’s coordinated effort may be unique, it is not alone in the challenge to prepare all students for kindergarten. Across the country communities are looking to reverse negative statistics and invest in early education.

Many cities have stepped up for young kids, such as Denver and Seattle, and have started to prioritize this investment based on broad interest from business, families and community members. These cities are already seeing the short-term benefits of supporting children and families.

The combination of business, early education practitioners, families, community members and philanthropy set up a coalition of powerful, and some unlikely, advocates to place quality early learning on Kansas City’s priority list.