My parents immigrated from Mexico and did not graduate high school, though my mother earned her GED. They recognized the value of education, and pushed their seven children to see college and professional careers as dreams that were within our reach. Now, I’m the co-owner of the second-largest minority-owned law firm in the country. I never would have been able to succeed without a quality education and my parents’ unwavering support.
Unfortunately, not all children grow up with these opportunities and networks of support. Each year, thousands of low-income children enter kindergarten unprepared and unable to take advantage of what our school system has to offer. Many will eventually drop out of school, limiting their prospects for holding jobs, earning a living wage and supporting families of their own. When they don’t succeed, it can be personally devastating.
It also becomes a problem for our society. However, this is a problem we know how to fix. I believe we can give all children a better chance at success by investing in early childhood education, starting before children enter kindergarten.
I’m a passionate advocate for early childhood education and was thrilled to be appointed to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. And I immediately raised my hand to participate in the commission’s early education committee. Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the United States. It is essential that America have an educated Latino community, one that is prepared to succeed from kindergarten through post-secondary education.
When low-income children attend early learning programs, research tells us that they are more likely to succeed academically, graduate high school, attend college and maintain employment. Economists say that early education programs have a 10 percent annual rate of return.
When the president announced his plan to expand high-quality early education opportunities in his State of the Union Address, it was exhilarating. Those investments would give more children and families the learning opportunities that create brighter futures and strengthen our school systems, communities, workforce and economy.
Here in Illinois, early learning enjoys bipartisan political and civic support. The Ounce of Prevention Fund is leading efforts to expand access to high-quality early learning opportunities for our most vulnerable children and families. I am excited to be chairing the annual “It’s Good Business to Invest in Young Children” luncheon April 24, where we’ll hear from Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading researcher on the long-term effects of children’s earliest experiences on later outcomes.
But we still have work to do to ensure that early learning is recognized as a foundational component of our education system. You can help by urging your elected officials to protect funding for early childhood programs. Even in a tough economic climate, it’s clear that the returns on early learning programs are exponential.
From an early age, my parents instilled in me the value of a solid education. I have passed that value along to my children and grandchildren — all four of my children graduated college, and I’m committed to making sure that my grandchildren do the same.