Investing in children will strengthen South Dakota By Rhonda Swanson As the nation and South Dakota struggle through an economic crisis, a new Administration and Congress gears up to make choices for our future. The right choice to strengthen our economy is to invest in children. It is imperative that high-quality, affordable, and accessible early childhood education becomes a priority in state and national investments and policy-making. Focusing our efforts on early childhood education both at the grassroots level and on a national stage will ensure the strength of America today and in the future. James Heckman of the University of Chicago and Arthur Rolnick of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota are among some of our nationâ�?�?s top economists who agree that the investment in early childhood education leads to a significant return. Thomas F. Cooley, a Dean of the New York University â�?�?Stern School of Business wrote in Forbes.com, â�?�?Education, as we all know, is a cumulative process. Thus, calling for a highly educated workforce implies, almost by definition, that individuals receive both early childhood development and a solid education from kindergarten on up.â�? Cooley also echoed research proving that children who receive proper early childhood development and education in areas like language, motor skills, social skills and emotional support are less likely to drop out of school, commit crimes and require government support later in life. Simply put, investing in early childhood education lays the foundation for children to succeed in school, work and life. The South Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children strongly believes that our nation cannot wait any longer to make a high-quality, well-financed system of early childhood education a priority in every state and community. Investments in the Child Care & Development Block Grant and for Head Start would help hardworking families, while saving future expenses for them and the nation. For eight years early childhood education has not been adequately funded, yet costs to run and maintain child care facilities and early learning programs have increased at a faster rate than inflation. Several states have instituted cutbacks in their child care assistance policies since February 2008. Here in South Dakota, the Department of Social Services, Division of Child Care Services has not instituted any policies that include these types of cutbacks. At the current time, all families who apply and meet the eligibility criteria are served at 200% of the Federal Poverty Level or below. To keep the current level of funding stable now and in the future, efforts at the local, state and national level must include commitments to strong, high-quality early childhood education. Investments in early childhood education would also keep and create jobs in early childhood, which is an economic sector as well. This is also a critical time for investments in human capital and the creation of a vibrant workforce. According to one study, by making it possible for parents to work, the licensed child care sector allows Americans to earn more than $100 billion annually. A thriving early childhood education field leads to three thriving workforces: families who depend on child care to work, the early childhood workforce that would continue providing the care and education, and the future workforce of children who are benefiting from the programs. As we move forward as a nation in solving our nationâ�?�?s economic troubles and building upon what works, early childhood education must remain a priority. Supporting children is not just the right thing to do, it is one of the smartest investments we can make for our nationâ�?�?s future. Rhonda Swanson is the Public Policy Chair for the South Daktoa Association for the Education of Young Children.