To read all of InsiderAdvantage Georgia’s daily news, SUBSCRIBE HERE. *Subscription includes a complimentary subscription to JAMES Magazine.

In 2008, a group of civic leaders convened an inspiring brain trust of educators, lawmakers, philanthropists and business leaders to make up the Early Education Commission. The United Way of Greater Atlanta asked the Commission to take a hard look at the status of early childhood education and child care in Georgia. I co-chaired the Commission with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the former president of Spelman College.  

Dennis Lockhart

I came to the project with an economist’s perspective. I was interested in assessing the potential return to Georgia of further investment in young children. I also saw child care as an economic necessity without which many parents could not participate in the workforce. Without child care, many talented young adults could not fully develop their skills by extending their education. Without child care, the economy suffered diminished engagement of some of our potentially most productive workers. 

Over the course of 18 months, my colleagues on the Commission and I listened and learned from some of the nation’s experts on brain development and early education. I became a convert to the conviction that high-quality child care and early education are critical determinants of an individual’s lifetime economic prospects. Early education enhances language and literacy acquisition. These early interventions shape a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and longer-term physical and mental health.  

According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, babies form more than a million new neural connections every second. In the first three years, a child’s brain will grow faster than at any other time in life. A child’s experiences during the foundational early years have a profound influence on lifetime development. And sadly, the Commission’s research 15 years ago revealed that too many Georgians under age five were not getting the education and care they needed. This was particularly true of children living in households with low incomes.  

In our assessment, hardworking early education and care providers did not have the technical resources or support, accompanied by standardized best practices, that would enable them to deliver measurably high-quality care. The need was urgent.  

With Gov. Nathan Deal’s commitment and buy-in from public and private investors, it took only a few years for Georgia to see improvement. The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) implemented a rating system called Quality Rated. The Commission also inspired the founding of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS), a non-profit organization that championed Quality Rated along with other cutting-edge methods and rallied broader support for the cause of early childhood education.  

The first group of child care providers to be star-rated under the newly adopted system was small–214 willing pioneers. The Quality Rated assessment was conducted by independent, credentialed experts who awarded star ratings. Of those earliest adopters, 127 providers across Georgia have maintained a star rating since 2012. 

The Quality Rated system has been in place for over a decade now. Participation is expanding. In just ten years, almost 3,000 providers in Georgia have earned one-, two-, or three-star ratings.  

Not only does this benefit the children and families served by Quality Rated child care programs, but it also strengthens our state’s economy. A DECAL-commissioned study published in 2016 found that the early care and education industry generated $4.7 billion of economic activity in the state annually, a contribution on par with other industries such as printing and pharmaceutical manufacturing.  

Parents across our state need accessible, stable, and affordable child care of specific and documented quality to be fully engaged members of the workforce. When parents know that their child is in excellent hands, they can focus on work and be maximally productive. 

Further, it’s obvious that today’s young children are Georgia’s future workforce. And tomorrow’s economy will be even more brainpower-driven than today’s. High-quality early learning experiences are an essential component of a strong foundation that will promote the full development of employees of the future.  

Nobel laureate and economist James Heckman has conducted research examining the payoff from investment in early learning. His research found that dollars invested in high-quality early childhood education yield a compound return on investment of 13%. In Georgia, we’ve invested in raising our quality standards, and we’re seeing measurable progress. Let’s celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Georgia stepping up to adopt a rigorous childcare and early education rating system, Quality Rated. 

Dennis Lockhart is a former President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta 


Lost your password?