Voice of the People

Today’s Voice of the People section in the Chicago Tribune featured Metropolitan Family Services President and CEO Ric Estrada. To see the original feature click here.

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Voice of the People
March 8, 2013

Early learning
President Barack Obama’s plan to invest in young children is a road-tested strategy that applies resources in ways that have been proven to generate positive returns for children, families, communities and the economy. Expanding the commitment to early childhood also meets critical needs our society cannot afford to ignore. At Metropolitan Family Services, we see both benefits and needs every day in the nearly 900 children we serve with preschool, child-care, home-visiting and Early Head Start/Head Start programs. Our children are ready to learn when they head to school.

The value of early learning has been proven repeatedly by research and decades of practical experience. Nobel scholars like University of Chicago economist James Heckman have long asserted that young children are the smartest investment we can make, pointing to research conducted right here in Chicago that documented returns of $7 for every $1 spent, in the form of better school performance, higher lifetime earnings and decreased costs of behavioral challenges.

If anything is surprising about the president’s proposal it is that early-childhood programs are suddenly considered controversial or speculative.

We hope our elected leaders do not take the bait because every American community is affected. Illinois was once a national early-childhood leader, but it has moved backward since 2009, eliminating services for 22,000 children and creating stress for parents who know what their children need but can’t get.

This challenge exists in every community we serve. We see it in city neighborhoods that desperately need new facilities. We see it in working families in DuPage County who aren’t “poor enough” for Head Start and can’t find affordable child care.

The good news is leaders like Mayor Rahm Emanuel are bucking the trend by finding a way to invest in early education. Law enforcement officials like DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin are making a point to show the connection between early learning and safe communities.

The president has put a thoughtful plan on the table to leverage federal, state and local resources. If we want children to succeed and want our economy to recover, we cannot afford to let this opportunity pass us by.

Ricardo Estrada
President and CEO, Metropolitan Family Services, Chicago

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