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COLUMN: Women voters understand benefits of early childhood education (Columbus Dispatch)

By: State Senator Peggy Lehner via Columbus Dispatch

In my 12 years in the Ohio legislature, I’ve always strived to create policies that promote the overall health and well-being of our citizens and are supported by strong evidence. That’s why I have spent my entire career fighting for the needs of Ohio’s youngest learners, ensuring that they have access to early childhood interventions like high quality child care, preschool and home visitation. The benefits of quality early learning to a child’s social and emotional development and school success are well documented.

These prevention strategies save taxpayers money while providing young children with the skills and proper brain development that prepare them for success in school and beyond. World-renowned economists like Nobel Laureate Dr. James Heckman have demonstrated an enviable return on public investment.

Indeed, the abundance of evidence suggests that these policies are smart and worthy of significant priority and public investment. But what many policymakers don’t fully appreciate is just how important these issues are to voters.

According to a new statewide survey commissioned by Groundwork Ohio, voters know the importance of early care and education — a full 89% of voters think it’s important to help provide child care for working parents. That’s 84% of Republican voters, 95% of Democratic voters and 88% of independent voters. You’d be hard-pressed to find many issues with more bipartisan support.

And these voters are willing to put their money where it counts. Some of the strongest supporters for substantial new investments in early childhood education are the coveted female voters who may determine the outcome of many elections across Ohio in just a few weeks. Fully 63% of women in Ohio believe more should be done to ensure children start school ready to learn. In addition, a remarkable 66% say this issue is one that will influence their opinions about a candidate, making them more likely to vote for those who support such investments. When asked about a proposal that invests hundreds of millions of additional state dollars to support early learning in the state, 4 of 5 women voters support the proposal.

Suburban voters also showed strong support for public investments in early childhood education programs, with 88% believing in the importance of providing child care for working parents and 77% supporting a proposal for increased state spending on early childhood education for children up to 3 years old. A solid majority of suburban voters — more than 60% — also would be more likely to vote for an elected official in Ohio who supports investments in early learning.

Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or an independent, polls tell us this is an issue that resonates with you. And when 9 of 10 voters, regardless of political party, believe that early care and education matters to them and their families, it offers a rare opportunity for policymakers to work together, across the aisle, to advance policy that all constituents value and would create a brighter future for our state.

These numbers reflect what those of us working on children’s issues have known for quite some time: Child care and early learning programs impact more than just children. And now, during a global pandemic, we are reminded every day that parents — and their employers — depend on this vital infrastructure to fuel our economy. Without access to quality child care options, it’s nearly impossible for parents to work and the burden of child care often falls on women. When employees can’t find or can’t afford child care, employers have higher rates of turnover, notice lower rates of productivity and have a harder time recruiting qualified staff.

I can tell you from my career as a public servant working on these issues that investing in proven, high-quality early interventions for our youngest Ohioans is sound public policy. The evidence is clear and compelling.

But if you’re an elected official seeking reelection in the near future, supporting and prioritizing a comprehensive early childhood agenda is a no-brainer. It’s good for kids, good for families, good for the economy — and good for your next election. Just ask all those women and suburban voters you are courting.

Peggy Lehner is a term-limited Republican state senator from Kettering.


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