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As business leaders who collectively support more than 2,000 jobs around the great state of Montana, we are writing in full support of Early Edge, Gov. Steve Bullock’s initiative to establish opt-in, universally available preschool for all 4-year-olds. We hope our legislators can come together to do what’s right for middle-class, working families struggling to afford high-quality early education, as well as for our state’s economy.

Providing quality education to our children is an issue supported across party and economic lines. As CEOs and senior leaders of workforce-driven organizations, we also view this as a workforce investment issue. Montana children must be able to compete nationally and globally, and when our children are disadvantaged by a lack of preschool, both the children and employers suffer in the long-term.

We must stress that early education is a nonpartisan issue. Forty-four states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky, have concluded that there is significant value and return on this investment to adopt legislation that funds pre-K education. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce maintains that there is no better economic development investment than investments made in high-quality, early childhood education.

A child’s brain is 90 percent developed by the time he or she turns five years old. According to University of Chicago Professor James Heckman, a national expert on early childhood education, public investment in preschool is one of the best ways to prevent a child’s family circumstances from dictating his or her future. Longitudinal studies available at www.heckmanequation.org and Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child present compelling evidence that pre-K reduces crime rates and teen pregnancies, and increases the likelihood of high school graduation.

We know that the skills learned in these early years are the building blocks for future learning and success, as documented by dozens of studies, including one from Duke University published Feb. 3 in the journal “Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.”

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Educating children in these early years hones their cognitive, behavioral and social skills. These benefits translate into a better-equipped, more competitive workforce. Investing in our children at this early stage of development will be the greatest gift that we can provide both for them and for Montana’s economic future.

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Children who attend preschool this fall will begin to enter the workforce in 2028, a time when Montana will likely face tremendous domestic and international competition for our goods and services. We are obligated to provide our children with the same or better opportunities to learn and to thrive as our competitors give their children. Investing in early childhood education is good for Montana’s children, for our economy and for our communities.

Please join us in supporting Early Edge Montana by visiting www.EarlyEdgeAction.org to ensure that all Montana four-year-olds have an equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream.

Niles Hushka is the CEO of KLJ and resides in Bozeman. Geoff Birnbaum is Executive Director of Youth Homes. Sherri Davidoff is the CEO of LMG Security in Missoula and a member of the Missoula Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Pat Corrick is the Managing Partner at Farran Realty Partners in Missoula. Steve Malicott, President/CEO of Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. Brad McCall owns McCall Homes & Development in Billings. Paul Meyer, Executive Director of Western Montana Mental Health.

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