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Early childhood education: Entrepreneurial opportunity?

February 5, 2014

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Their future is bright. Photo: Paul Schultz, Flickr

The costs and benefits of pre-school education for young children has been making buzz lately, with President Obama mentioning it in his State of the Union address, the new New York City mayor and that state’s governor offering plans to beef up education for all toddlers.

According to the New York Times, enrollment in early childhood education programs has doubled in the past decade, with a variety of state initiatives and expansions underway.  That got me to wondering about the industry itself, and if the increased focus – and potentially, increased funding – for kids’ enrichment programs would be boon to small businesses and other contractors.

(One note: This post is intended to look at educational programs vs. the basic childcare industry, but the distinction can be difficult as most programs attempt to offer an educational component.    For example, this fascinating report about the economic impact of Oregon’s child care industry (PDF) is well worth a read as you formulate questions for officials and business operators in your neck of the woods, but it’s unclear to me if all early education components are included given the nomenclature used, such as ‘day care’ and ‘child care.’  So be sure to ask for definitions.)

In poking around on a number of state websites, early childhood education oversight is categorized under education, public health and other agencies; you can start at the appropriate office for resources and regulations in your locale.  From what I can glean, early childhood services in most areas are administered through a patchwork of public and private facilities – so if you are looking for for-profit and small business stories, you can follow up with private contractors to the state agencies.

Here’s a useful report from the National Institute for Early Childhood Education Research; The State of Preschool 2012 offers a national overview, state-level data and a good introduction to the metrics of the industry.   The National Association for the Education of Young Children is another helpful resource. And the non-profit RAND Corporation offers extensive public policy analysis and briefing papers on the subject of early childhood education.

Ask for any state-prepared reports on economic impact, as well as budgets for your state’s existing early childhood education programs.  Audit reports can provide insight into spending and trouble spots; check out this June 2013 audit report from Missouri – as a related Fulton Sun article points out, officials were dinged for lapses ranging from payments to a center that had no children enrolled to conflicts of interest among officials.  This New York Times piece form 2012 outlines other oversight issues vis a vis private early childhood contractors; again worth a read as you prep questions for your state’s officials.

Remember that ancillary businesses benefit, too.  Here’s a press release touting the distance learning options of the Childcare Education Institute, a company that offers an array of training in the field.  Consultants, trainers, even liability insurance for child centers – are support businesses you can use to illustrate the ripple effect of the industry in your area’s economy.

And as a slightly different tack, you might survey major employers and corporations in your area; are they contributing at all to early childhood education, via philanthropy – like this reading program Target sponsors – advocacy, workplace policies and the like?  A round-up of which companies are out front on this issue would be interesting for readers.

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