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No Substitute for a Quality Education

Marian Wright Edelman | 8/1/2012, 5:49 p.m.

On July 24, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, gave a video keynote speech to 3,200 community and youth leaders attending the Children's Defense Fund's National Conference in Cincinnati. The speech wasn't on the details of national fiscal policy, but on the crucial importance of effective early childhood supports and public education to the success of our economy. His remarks were strongly reinforced by a very distinguished panel of leading scholars, educators and education activists who spoke about the national imperative of preparing all children for school and building a public education system that prepares all children and our nation for the future. Here is most of what Bernanke said:

"At the Federal Reserve, we spend a lot of time looking at economic data, such as production and employment. In doing so, we try never to forget that these seemingly sterile numbers are in fact reflections of the economic aspirations, opportunities, and well-being of millions of Americans. When individuals are denied opportunities to reach their maximum potential, it harms not only those individuals, of course, but also the larger economy, which depends vitally on having a skilled productive workforce. As a result, we all have a stake in the essential work that you are doing for our children.

"The Federal Reserve has long supported increasing educational opportunity for children, including the youngest. Federal Reserve banks have published articles and convened community forums on early childhood issues. For school-age children, we sponsor financial literacy and economic education programs, and for these programs, we make a special effort to reach schools with high proportions of minorities and lower income children. ...I hope we will one day achieve the Children's Defense Fund's goal of a level educational playing field for all children."

"Another strong plea for early childhood and education investment at the conference came from former Proctor and Gamble chairman John Pepper who said: "I truly believe that...ensuring a level playing field for all children is the social justice issue of our time. It borders on being criminal to me to fail to give children and families who most need our help, childhood support that we know from experience will make a difference for a lifetime. Why is it that in all the campaign talk that we're hearing, almost none of it concerns this subject? We should expect and we should demand better. Not only, if I might conclude, is this the social justice issue of our time, it is also the economic issue of our time. We can talk about jobs till we're blue in the face, but none of it is going to happen if we continue to fail to support the development of those youngest people most in need. It doesn't have to be this way, and I hope it won't continue to be."

The Children's Defense Fund believes that the greatest threat to America's national military and economic security and democracy comes from no enemy without but from our failure to invest in and prepare all of our children for the future right now.