Tuesday, March 8, 2011

David McLaughlin: Early Learning Pays Dividends

David McLaughlin
As part of a statewide initiative to raise awareness of early learning programs, Advance Food Company cofounder David McLaughlin addressed the Choctaw Rotary Club at Old Germany Restaurant.

He is among a number of business and community leaders who comprise Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities (OKCEO), a campaign spotlighting the link between early childhood development and economic development.

McLaughlin, an Oklahoma City resident, urged the attendees to get involved promoting and investing in early learning, stressing that 85 percent of the brain’s architecture is formed by the time a child is 3 years old.

It is vital to give children the mental tools to succeed in academics by the time they enter school, he said. Studies indicate that children who have difficulty reading in the first grade are much more likely to continue to struggle in school.

“Like a foundation for a house, it makes all the difference down the road,” McLaughlin told the Rotarians. “It impacts the social skills along with the cognitive skills of how a child performs or behaves in pre-kindergarten, and whether he’ll be reading on track by third grade or graduate from high school. It determines whether they will have the skills we look for in workers -- critical thinking, problem solving, working on teams.”

Nevertheless, McLaughlin pointed out that less than 4 percent of public investments in education and development have occurred by the time a child turns 3.

“What would happen if a business invested its Research and Development dollars this way? It would be a recipe for bankruptcy,” he said. “By focusing more dollars in the early years, we stand to save millions in future tax dollars. The evidence is clear and impressive. If we invest in early learning opportunities for Oklahoma children, all of us will benefit.”

But McLaughlin stressed that people can’t afford to wait for government to take care of the problem. He said it’s important to read to small children and he urged businesses to help sponsor field trips to museums and other learning places.

As a member of OKCEO, McLaughlin is among 35 leaders who have made a commitment to raise awareness of how early childhood development goes hand in hand with building an economically strong Oklahoma.

McLaughlin is cofounder of Advance Food Company, which boasts 2,000 workers and seven manufacturing facilities in Oklahoma, Iowa and Pennsylvania. He manages Advance’s sales and marketing affairs, and is also active in the daily operations of Advance Brands.

McLaughlin pointed to an array of studies illustrating the effectiveness of early childhood education. Children who participate in such programs are more likely to succeed in academics, graduate high school and go on to college. They are more likely to own a home and earn higher wages. They are significantly less likely to have disciplinary problems or spiral into social ills such as substance abuse.

McLaughlin added that early childhood is also important to businesses now. Childcare-related absences cost employers an estimated $3 billion annually.

“It’s obvious that accessible, affordable, quality childcare and preschool are not just an issue for parents or the educational system to resolve. It’s a business issue, as well,” he said. “An investment in those early years pays bid dividends later. It’s like the miracle of compound interest: the more you invest early, the bigger the payoff later.”

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