By Dr. Laurie J. Smith and Rhea Williams-Bishop

At a time when the stock market is slumping, Mississippians are making the smartest investment possible in an uncertain economy: providing a better start in life for some of our most vulnerable children.

Together with national foundations, Mississippi’s business and charitable communities have contributed $5 million -- and aim to raise a total of $10 million -- for an early childhood education program that will reap returns in an improved business climate, a better-prepared workforce, and more good-paying jobs. On top of that, we’ll strengthen our social fabric and our state’s finances, as more vulnerable young people are put on a path that leads to productive lives and responsible citizenship, not dependency and anti-social behavior.

Quality early care and preschool aren’t only educational priorities -- they’re economic priorities. When corporate chief executive officers and site selectors decide where to locate or expand a business, they explore whether communities have skilled workforces, good schools, and high-quality early care. Good school systems and early childhood programs not only produce and prepare capable workers but also attract and retain workers who don’t want to worry about the quality of education that their children are receiving.