Jim Goodnight, the CEO of Cary software company SAS, spoke at a press conference in Washington Wednesday marking the roll out of bills that would expand voluntary preschool nationwide if they become law.
Goodnight urged Congress to pass the bills. Joining him were actress Jennifer Garner, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the lawmakers who introduced the bills – Sen Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and in the House, Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., the only congressional Republican who has declared support for the legislation so far.
“I’m the head of a company that receives 60,000 job applications every year,” Goodnight said. “Right now the top jobs in statistics, economics research and operations can take two years to fill because we simply can’t find people with the skills to do them.
“But this isn’t just my problem – 94 percent of the fast-growing occupations in science, technology and mathematics require post-secondary education while 500,000 people drop out of high school every year,” he added.
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“Making investments that yield high economic dividends is a basic tenet of smart business, and that’s what we’re doing by expanding quality preschool to give children a foundation for longtime learning and earning,” Goodnight added. “This reduces the significant costs taxpayers deal with due to high school drop-outs and enables businesses to hire more qualified workers and reduce remedial education costs for workers lacking minimum skills.”
Goodnight’s comments were released by America’s Edge, a non-profit advocacy group of which he’s a member. Washington-based America’s Edge is made up of business people who advocate for good-quality education programs for children and youth, with a focus on high school and preschool.
The pre-school legislation has been under wraps for months. It would create federal-state partnerships to expand voluntary preschool programs. It’s not yet clear how the government would offset the costs. It faces high hurdles in Congress because of the additional funding that would be needed for the expansion.
A key part of the Senate bill would provide federal funds to support states based on the number of 4-year-olds living at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. There’s also funding for other care for young children, including $4 billion for Early Head Start, which serves infants and toddlers.
President Barack Obama outlined a similar plan to support universal preschool earlier this year.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said: “We applaud congressional leaders in both the House and Senate for introducing a bill today that would help realize the president’s vision of high quality preschool for every American child.”
Carney said that expanded preschool would give parents “safe places for their children to learn” and would be a start toward creating the educated work force the nation needs. “There’s no better down payment towards that goal than a great early start to education,” he said.
Congressional Republicans have questioned the need for additional federal spending on early learning programs.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement: “We can all agree on the importance of ensuring children have the foundation necessary to succeed in school and in life. However, before investing in new federal early childhood initiatives, we should first examine opportunities to improve existing programs designed to help our nation’s most vulnerable children, such as Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant.”