Maureen Weber: A Diverse Pipeline Starts With Investing In Early Learning Programs

As talent preparation, from birth through post-secondary education, increasingly and rightly takes center stage, we cannot afford to be distracted from a simple truth that deserves our attention. Focused: We are not preparing children, especially black and Hispanic children, with the skills that will allow them to thrive. Because we value a thriving workforce and vital community, this is a reality we cannot ignore.

A recently released report by Indy’s Corporate Equity for Learning and Talent Opportunities Task Force makes it clear that our ability to fill jobs, board positions and community leadership roles with diverse talents is severely limited by unequal playing field. Far too many black and Hispanic students are lagging behind in K-12 education, receiving exemption degrees, not pursuing post-secondary education, and not earning post-secondary degrees.

The statistics in the task force report are sobering. In 2018-19, 15% of black students and 19% of Hispanic students in Marion County passed the ILEARN exam, compared to 45% of their white peers. Black high school graduates were almost twice as likely as white graduates to receive waiver degrees. Of the more than 3,000 black high school graduates in Marion County in 2012-2013, only 14% obtained a two- or four-year college degree from a state public institution in six years.

To reverse these trends, we need to build from the ground up, starting at the very beginning of our talent pipeline. Differences between students’ academic and social skills are observable in Kindergarten, so our work must begin long before children reach the school door.

As President and CEO of Early Learning Indiana and a member of the task force, I believe the way forward begins with ensuring that all children have access to high quality early childhood education opportunities. Indeed, we know that the foundation for learning is established in the first five years of a child’s life, when children develop flexible thinking strategies, discover how to persevere in the face of challenges, and become curious about the surrounding world. surround them. Quality preschool education experiences, coupled with nurturing relationships, build strong brain architecture and essential skills that enable children to be successful.

While there is work to be done for all stakeholders, the task force provides a clear set of actions central businesses in Indiana can take to help reverse these trends and prepare our Black and Hispanic students. to a life of greater success.

For starters, employers can help their team members access early learning services by setting up a pre-tax benefit program, such as a dependents account or an education savings account. Depending on their size and appetite, companies can also book places for employees’ children in local early learning programs, establish their own early learning program on or near site, or simply share information. on the benefits of high quality early learning. .

Each of these steps will not only impact employees and their children, but will also improve business results, as absences and lost productivity due to childcare issues is an expensive and well-documented problem. .

Racial disparities in education and employment opportunities threaten the vitality of our community and the strength of our workforce. The task force’s recommendations offer practical ways for companies to address this challenge through targeted investments in early learning and across the talent pipeline. Renew our commitment to ensuring that all children in our community have access to high quality educational opportunities that are the basis of their contributions later in life.

__________

Weber is President and CEO of Early Learning Indiana and a member of the Business Equity for Indy working group.