Katharine Stevens, of American Enterprise Institute, speaks about early childhood education during MEC’s Capital Day 2019 at the Jackson Marriott Thursday, January 10, 2019.

Mississippi’s chamber of commerce is taking up the mantle of two unlikely issues — early education and childcare.

Panelists at Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Capital Day, where business leaders gathered in Jackson to meet with state politicians about important issues for Mississippi, said the focus serves two purposes.

First, working parents need somewhere to leave their children during the day. Secondly, in order to have an educated workforce that understands how to work in teams and show up on time, they need to master timeliness, communication and interpersonal skills early on in life, panelists said.

“Childcare is where many children are spending the most time when they are the youngest and at the most critical stage of development,” said Katharine Stevens, of the American Enterprise Institute. “Childcare is the pivot point for a two-generation approach that moves whole families ahead at the same time.”

In Mississippi, the state has a growing number of sites operating across the state designed to provide quality education to 4-year-olds. The Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013 provides funding to communities to establish and support quality early childhood education and development services. In December, the Mississippi Department of Education announced five new collaboratives, bringing the total to 19 serving 3,200 kids in the 2019-20 school year.

Stevens told the group education needs to begin at birth.

“Here’s the bottom line: The achievement gap neither originates in nor can be closed by the schools,” Stevens said. “What scientists are establishing is that a child’s earliest brain development, in particular from birth to age 3, sets the foundation that all future development is built on.”

Businesses were encouraged to reach out to local career technical education teachers and community colleges to learn more about how they can contribute to building a pipeline.

Early childhood education has become a major barrier to employment for (businesses) incumbent workforce and their future workforce,” said Caitlin Codella, senior director of policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Center for Education and Workforce.

Laurie Smith, executive director of the State Workforce Policy Board offered details on a recently announced $10.6 million federal grant for early childhood education Gov. Phil  Bryant announced earlier this month. The funds will expand upon the state’s early childhood plan, she said.

“It’s a family based approach that focuses on helping the family get the services they need for job placement while at the same time providing high quality care,” she said.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.