Perry Keith and DiSabatino: Invest in early education to build workforce


Dr. Colleen Perry Keith is the 14th president in the 138-year history of Goldey-Beacom College and a member of the Rotary Club of Wilmington. Brian DiSabatino is the president and CEO of the EDiS Co. and chair of the Delaware Business Roundtable.

As leaders behind a historic business-focused college with a 90% placement rate after graduation and a development company that’s reshaped Delaware for generations, we know that quality, affordable child care is crucial to the workforce needs of our state.

Without access to care, parents and caregivers can’t work or further their education and careers. It’s as simple as that.

And we know we have more job openings than workers looking for work — and to fill this gap, one of the key strategies is increasing access to child care.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that 13% of Delaware’s children have a family member who quit, changed or refused a job due to difficulty finding and affording child care. Today in Delaware, child care costs more than the average mortgage payment and more than the cost of in-state college tuition. These factors hit our local workforce hard. It often makes more financial sense for a parent to stay home with their young child than to further their career. The resulting challenges to families and employers cost Delaware $415 million in lost earnings, productivity and tax revenue each year.

The Delaware Business Roundtable recently released the 2024 Investment Agenda, designed to set the direction for the state leaders elected this fall. The agenda recommends early care and education as a critical long-term investment for the state: “Delaware must implement strategies to stabilize and expand access to and affordability of early childhood education.”

One immediate solution, as the Investment Agenda notes, would be to increase income thresholds, so more families can benefit from state-supported programs. Our neighboring states set family eligibility levels much higher than Delaware (for example, Pennsylvania is covering families up to 300% of the federal poverty level, while Delaware only goes up to 185%).

The agenda notes “a compelling need to invest in this space,” as 6 out of 7 young children in Delaware are unable to access public early childhood education. It also recommends important investments in the early educator workforce and in quality improvement initiatives.

The long-term nature of this investment is critical to the future workforce. Without quality child care, students are less likely to enter kindergarten ready and then less likely to hit other important milestones, such as third grade reading, eighth grade math, high school completion and earning postsecondary credentials. This situation directly impacts the workforce, as failure to meet critical milestones along the way to adulthood results in a less capable workforce. Quality child care is a key pillar of Delaware’s economic future.

Delaware is a small state that knows how to work together. If we can work together to solve child care for families, we will strengthen our economy, our workforce and our communities.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

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