Steve Goldstein: For the past five decades, Arizona Town Hall has created a forum for Arizona leaders to offer solutions to our biggest problems. The latest Town Hall focused on early childhood education. More than 170 Arizona leaders, business people, educators, elected officials and students hammered out a report that proposes ideas to improve our education system. Tara Jackson, President of Arizona Town Hall, is here to discuss the report. Also with me is Todd Sanders, President and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, one of the Town Hall participants. Welcome to you both.
Tara Jackson: Thank you.
Steve Goldstein: Tara, let's talk about early education. Let's define the terms. When we say early, what does that really mean?
Tara Jackson: Early means birth to age eight.
Steve Goldstein: Birth. Wow. Let's talk about some of the suggestions that are going to come out of the report, are they practical things that Arizona can do right away or long-term solutions?
Tara Jackson: All of the above, there are practical solutions that apply to mothers, to small business owners, to people who have nothing to do with the policy or not involved in the policy that might happen at the state legislature, and there are also recommendations that apply to policy leaders so they are across the board, and some start today. Some are already happening.
Steve Goldstein: And what are some of those?
Tara Jackson: For example, how you choose to interact with a young child has a huge impact on their brain development. And which then, impacts how well they do in school, how well they promote our economy. I was just listening to your discussion with the economist you just interviewed, and one of your last questions was how can we know what's going to happen in 2016. Well, we can help control it by helping to educate a workforce that is ready for the future economy.
Steve Goldstein: Todd, that’s so important. I know you deal with economy all the time. So, education and the economy in-sync and early childhood education. We heard so much when Governor Napolitano was in office about all day K. Is that still important? Was that overrated? Give us background on that.
Todd Sanders: No, it really isn't. I think Dan's points were absolutely right on. There is a growing body of evidence that engaging children at the earliest age really makes a difference, and that delta, really is very large, as children get older. There was a study that was, actually, discussed, and it was a study done in the 60s, and they tracked these kids for 40 years, and the benefits, the ROI is incredible. One of the conservative estimates was the ROI was 10 to 1 in terms of the dollars spent, so, from our perspective, this is critical.
Steve Goldstein: Let's talk about engaging children, what does that mean? What sort of communication does that entail?
Tara Jackson: Well, there were a number of different things that one, one of our keynote speakers talked about, and she is known around the world for her research and studies on what is impactful in children. And her name is Dr. Adele Diamond, and her presentation is, actually, on our website. And our participants were incredibly taken with the research, so engaging, some of the most effective engagement, is not necessarily what we might think as a parent. Instead, of, of trying to get your three-year-old to learn every letter, what those studies show is that it's far more important to have them experiencing interaction, to have story-telling, to have physical activity, and one of the things that I thought was really interesting and an asset that Arizona has that, and Dr. Diamond's words, we don't take advantage is being bilingual. Growing up bilingual as a young child actually has been shown to have a huge impact on what they call executive functions. Executive functions are things like being patient, being able to listen and pay attention closely. And so that when grow up learning two languages, as I believe Todd did, you are ten steps ahead in learning these skills.
Steve Goldstein: Todd, based on what you heard, I will come back to the economic factors, as well. Was there a discussion about the impact on folks who come from low income families as opposed to those who come from middle or higher income in terms of how they learn and they are communicated with?
Todd Sanders: I think that the discussions that were had, that these things really matter across the board. And I think that what Tara mentioned, I think is very impactful, is that parents can be a big part of this, a big solution. It does not have to be a big spend. So, the Phoenix Public Library has a tremendous program where they’re reading to kids, and they are teaching the children, so, I think that crosses economic barriers, and it really can be impactful.
Steve Goldstein: Talk about just learning to communicate, because, in your business, Tara, we all have to communicate and know how to get along with other people. And that has to start at an early age, as well.
Todd Sanders: Absolutely. It's tremendously important, and the language skills, and all of those things are exponential over time. I think, you know, the idea of going to the moon, as you take off, if you don't have that correct trajectory, that small difference in the beginning can be huge at the end, and that's how I see early childhood education and the earlier we can engage, the bigger the return on investment.
Steve Goldstein: Tara, Let's talk about the concerns, though. When early education is not good, what are some of the things that we should fear? How does this affect society and how does this affect kids for the rest of their lives?
Tara Jackson: Well, in the earlier segment you said you were a big fan of economists, and your question goes right into one of our economist speakers from the Federal Reserve. And one question that I think that everyone had, is why would the Federal Reserve care about early education? And the reason is the Federal Reserve, one of their missions is to make sure that our economy is very robust. And what they have learned from many studies is that if you don't have effective quality early education, whether it's from a center or a program or a parent in home, there are huge ramifications later on in terms, social services, high school drop-outs and our jail systems, and huge, huge ramifications.
Steve Goldstein: And Todd, what about the business community. What should the business community be doing to make sure that, that K-12 or earlier than that, education in Arizona is improved? Is there more the business community could be doing?
Todd Sanders: I think that there is a growing awareness among the business community that we really need to start engaging at this level. It's clear, I think that Tara is right when, you look at the biggest line items in the budget, all that can be avoided if you are doing the right thing, so, we think that there is a lot of opportunity here, and I can tell from our perspective, the greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, as an economic development organization, it's tremendously important. You hear about an 8 percent unemployment rate, and as I talked to members, they cannot find people. So there is something missing there.
Steve Goldstein: Tara there is this feeling that – I don't want to be cynical – but a feeling that there has to be a buy-in. And the Town Hall is vital, it's important for getting the ideas out and making suggestions. Is there more that needs to be done to make sure that our leaders, not just business leaders like Todd, but others will say I recognize the importance and I will do something about it?
Tara Jackson: There is always more that can be done, and especially, with something like early education that everyone should care about even if you don't have children. Early education has such an impact on our economy, and on the taxes you are going to pay. And to go back to those, that economic analysis, every dollar that is spent has been shown over and over again, and in a variety of studies, to come back at $10, and up to $18 or more, in the tax savings that your money that you are going to be paying to incarcerate people.
Steve Goldstein: And Todd when we see the expansion of Apple. I use that as an example because it happened this week, if Arizona were doing better when it comes to early childhood education, would the announcement not be as big of a deal because it would be more common?
Todd Sanders: I think you are absolutely right on that and more importantly, when you think about the existing Arizona companies and the job base, that's the great way to keep the companies here and getting them to grow. Think about Intel and the growth that they are engaging in now. More companies see a qualified workforce. And you are going to see more of that. I think that's absolutely correct.
Steve Goldstein: For both of you, Todd, let me start with you, how important is a vision for this? When we talk about early childhood education, people may not think that they are going to see the benefits of that for 15 to 18 years, who knows. What does it take to have a vision and patience that these things will pan out?
Todd Sanders: I think that's part of what you alluded to, especially with policy makers, it's our job to really make the case for this because you do have to have a vision. It's not a short-term type of proposal, but I think that these results actually can be seen at an earlier time frame than necessarily a full 13 years. So, I think that our job is to make sure that we make the case.