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The business of early childhood.

What do Boeing, Bank of America, Clear Channel Radio and Lockheed Martin have in common? These businesses are working with state and local governments and foundations to get young children ready for kindergarten and on their way to a better life. Significant new private interest has lead to different approaches such as endowments, business councils, funding for demonstration projects and birth-to-three initiatives in more than 10 states.

Why this new private sector interest? Many business leaders believe that improving early childhood is an investment that pays off. Research shows that investing in the early years yields positive returns in better academic and social development, and in the long-term, increased productivity, workforce competitiveness and economic growth.

In early 2006, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, along with business and foundation partners including the Gates Foundation, created a statewide public-private partnership. Called Thrive by 5, the partnership begins with nearly $9 million in pooled pledges from both the public and private sectors to improve early learning in Washington. Recently, the Legislature established a new department of early learning.

Also this year, the Nebraska legislature created the Nebraska Early Childhood Endowment Fund. If funded, it will consist of $40 million in public funds and $20 million in private funds, resulting in $3 million ($2 million state and $1 million private) in funding for early childhood programs for at-risk children up to age 3.

In Minnesota, the Legislature, businesses and foundations contribute money to fund early childhood programs and models that are cost-effective and show results. In 2005, the Legislature created the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation to ensure that children arrive at school prepared for success.

Local businesses, community leaders and foundations in at least four cities have teamed up to build an "Educare center," which provides early childhood services for at-risk, low-income kids and their families. Private money is anchoring each Educare center, with Head Start, child care providers, and local school districts working together.

This new emergence of private sector involvement in early childhood builds on generations of similar investments. One such initiative is North Carolina's "Smart Start," which began in 1993. More than $200 million in private funds has been raised, with more than 15 major companies and foundations participating. Smart Start funds are used to make child care affordable and accessible, improve child care quality, and provide access to family support and health services.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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