Early childhood education matters to Latinos and everyone else

This presidential election will likely see the highest level of Latino voter participation in history, with some estimates projecting millions more Latinos voting in 2016 compared to 2012.

As president and CEO of Voto Latino, I know that Latino voters care deeply and passionately about issues that strengthen families. And while the Latino community views immigration reform that upholds the dignity and contributions of our community as a central political and moral imperative, we are not single-issue voters. Like voters of all backgrounds, we care about the issues that most closely affect us and our families.

It should be no surprise then that Latino voters are demanding policies that will shape a better future for their children, with particular emphasis on increasing investments in early childhood education. According to a new poll from the First Five Years Fund, early childhood education is among the top priorities for voters, second only to improving the quality of public education and above increasing the number of good-paying jobs.

It makes sense that voters see jobs and access to quality education as their most important priorities this election. Both issues are directly tied to supporting the health and welfare of those they love, and the ability to pursue the American dream providing a better life for our children. Like the vast majority of voters, the Latino community sees access to affordable and quality education as key to upward mobility and recognizes that early education builds the foundation for success in the classroom and beyond.

The First Five Years Fund poll also shows that Americans believe we have a huge problem when it comes to early learning. More than two-thirds of those poll respondents think children aren’t prepared for kindergarten, and voters of all parties say we should be doing more to give our children a strong start. This is especially important for Latinos as our median age is 27, compared to 37 for the rest of the country. Furthermore, 56 percent of Latino households have children under 18, compared to 40 percent for the rest of the country.

As a mom to two children under five, I know first-hand that education and development don't begin in kindergarten. Every single moment of a child’s day is a learning moment — beginning at birth. It is critical to ensure kids have access to safe and developmentally stimulating environments during these crucial years that will set them on a path toward a lifetime of success.

This is not just a moral issue — although it is that as well — but also an economic issue. The overwhelming research shows that disadvantaged children who receive a high-quality early childhood education are more likely to earn higher wages, live healthier lives, avoid incarceration, raise stronger families and contribute to society.

But beyond supporting the education and development of young children, this is also an issue for working families. Most parents don’t have the luxury of staying home to care for young children because they rely on two incomes to support their family. Unfortunately, most voters say there are only some or very few programs that offer high-quality, affordable childcare and early learning options for lower- and middle-income families in their area.

With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that, in a deeply polarized and often angry election year, nearly three-quarters of the electorate support a federal plan that would help states and local communities provide high-quality early education to lower- and middle-income children from birth to age five.

In fact, 85 percent of Latino voters support this plan to make quality early childhood education more accessible and affordable. Latinos join suburban women, moms, seniors, moderate Republicans and Republican women as key voting segments that are impressed by candidates who support early childhood education.

So, if candidates want to win this or any future election, they would be wise to recognize the Latino community, hear its voice, and help Latinos achieve their aspirations through economic and social opportunity. And a solution we overwhelmingly support — increased investments in quality early childhood education — generates benefits that spread far beyond our community and this election. Our country is strongest when we invest, as early as possible, in all children, who together will make our nation's future thrive. 

Maria Teresa Kumar is CEO and President of Voto Latino, an organization that empowers Latinos through voter registration, civic engagement, issue advocacy and leadership development.

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