April 23, 2018
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Early childhood learning, and the business case for it, takes the spotlight

National and state leaders, education advocates and business leaders gathered last Tuesday for the joint AWB Institute-U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce for Early Childhood Learning event. The event was co-sponsored by Thrive Washington.

The event put a spotlight on the business case for building a robust program of early learning to support life-long learning and prepare the workforce of tomorrow.

The keynote was given by Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She and other speakers offered simple solutions for employers to support early learning and, in turn their employees with children, with considerations for employees volunteering at their children's school, or donating supplies, and when possible, finding opportunities to negotiate childcare discounts for employees.

Michelle Beehler, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories’ (SEL) senior human resource manager, explained how the company negotiated a 5-10 percent discount and waived fees with one national childcare provider and negotiates discounts with others when many employees use the same service.

The company also invested in an onsite early learning center for employees that is so popular that it has a waiting list. It’s an important recruiting tool, Beehler explained.

Many companies can’t afford that investment, one audience member noted, starting an important conversation about the many solutions for school readiness and investing in lifelong learners.

Those solutions need to line up with what the community needs, said Cynthia Juarez, executive director for Early Learning and Migrant Education at Educational Service District 105 in Yakima. There, a mix of public and private funding sources, including a grant from a private foundation, led to the creation of Blossoms Early Learning Center, which opened in 2016 and serves more than 70 preschoolers.

Guests also heard from state legislators who have advocated for greater investments in early childhood learning, including Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane. Many people say they support early learning, Billig said, but not everyone fights to make it their top legislative funding priority.

Billig said he was glad, and not surprised, that AWB hosted Tuesday’s event because the business community has more reason than most to be an advocate for early learning.

“Because it’s not just about preparing the future workforce,” he said. “It’s also about taking care of those current employees, so they can be productive members of the workforce. Not to mention…supporting early learning programs that are going to make our communities healthier and safer and more productive.”

TVW recorded the event and has all the speaker and panels available to watch online:

  • Early Learning and School Readiness: Aaron Morris, director, Family and Community Learning, PBS Children’s Media and Education; and, Caitlin Codella, senior director, Policy and Programs, Center for Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
  • Business Getting Involved: Michele Beehler, senior human resources manager, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories; and Cynthia Juarez, executive director, Early Learning and Migrant Education, ESD 105

The Olympia Business Watch blog has an overview of the event and AWB News has a high-level look at the day’s discussions.

For more information on early learning or to engage on the issue, contact AWB Government Affairs Director Amy Anderson at 360.943.1600.

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Read the full column in The Puget Sound Business Journal
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