As business leaders, we understand that one of the most critical investments we can make is in education. Today's students are tomorrow's employees and consumers. It is our human capital that will strengthen our region's companies and ensure that our region is positioned to be globally competitive.
As the nation shifts into a new, nonindustrial economy, we will need a well-trained, technically competent workforce to manage and staff the businesses that create the high-paying jobs. Our future depends on the strength of our scientific spine. Spelled out, it's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM, as it has become known. The skills derived from a STEM education are directly linked to economic productivity and competitive products.
A component of achieving the STEM vision, though, seems to be missing. We need a call to action to focus on the "M" in STEM and we need to start developing math skills in early childhood settings. Studies have shown that a high-quality pre-K education better prepares children for success in school and life. The research is clear: an early understanding of numbers creates a foundation for long-term success.
Minnesota's growing industries — financial, medical devices and technology — are all math-dependent. If we want to continue to be a global leader and enjoy the wealth and benefits that come with this economic strength, then we need to create the next generation of innovators and experts. And we need to start before children even enter kindergarten.
Research demonstrates that high-quality early education positively affects children's cognitive learning and social/emotional development, builds a foundation for lifelong learning and improves skills for the workforce of tomorrow. Quality preschool programs are also critically important to reducing dropout rates, criminal behavior and costly services that are a drain on economic growth.
For every $1 invested in high-quality preschool, society reaps as much as $16 in long-term savings, according to a cost-benefit analysis of the Perry Preschool Study, a research project that spanned 40 years.
It's hard to ignore such compelling evidence.
Earlier this year, ServeMinnesota, the state's hub for AmeriCorps programs, received a $580,000 grant payable over three years from the PNC Foundation to support early numeracy, math and reading proficiency for prekindergarten students. The grant was the largest the PNC Foundation has made in Minnesota and was also the largest recorded investment in early numeracy from a private funder in the state. The foundation receives its principal funding from the PNC Financial Services Group. PNC has made it a priority to support high-quality early childhood education through PNC Grow Up Great, a multiyear $350 million initiative to help children from birth to age 5 develop a lifelong love of learning.
By giving more children access to a substantial pre-K education, PNC is helping build a stronger Minnesota and create the workforce it needs for continued advancement in the 21st century.
We should not be capable of predicting student success based solely on family income — this is a factor with no real connection to math or reading skills. Yet we can do it with depressingly high accuracy. In 2017, 52 percent of students from low-income households failed to pass the state math test compared to 33 percent of all third-grade students. By the time low-income students reach high school, that failure rate rises to 74 percent, according to recent statistics from the Minnesota Department of Education.
Now, more than ever, it is clear that resources to improve the math experiences of young children — particularly those from low-income households — are worth the investment. The potential return on investment is tremendous from the perspective of employers, academic institutions and the general public.
As business leaders, we implore the private sector to join us in taking action on this issue. Expanding access to quality early learning experiences is not just good for our community, it is good for the economy. It's up to all of us — businesses, residents, elected officials and nonprofit organizations — to provide the tools that allow Minnesotans to succeed, starting with our youngest neighbors.
Please join ServeMinnesota, PNC and others in the crusade to provide a high-quality pre-K education for all Minnesota's children. It will provide benefits to our society for decades to come.
Audrey Suker is chief executive of ServeMinnesota. Kate Kelly is regional president for the Twin Cities at PNC Bank.