In a speech at the annual conference of the Clinton family’s charity on Thursday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out her priorities for her life outside of government: “early childhood development, opportunities for women and girls, and economic development that creates jobs and gives more people in more places the chance to live up to their own god-given potential.” The early childhood development ideas, which made up the majority of her speech, largely invoked the power of private funding and non-governmental institutions to raise the quality of children’s lives.
This is an economic imperative, according to Clinton. “Why is it that China is committed to providing 70 percent of its children with three years of preschool by 2020?” she asked the audience. “Here in the United States, only half of our children receive early childhood education. Some of it, very honestly, is not of high quality.”
In calling for investment in early childhood, she noted that the government will play a big role but that the U.S. can’t leave out the private sector. “There is also a responsibility that has to be met by parents and families, by businesses and communities who are at the center of this challenge,” she noted.
She specifically praised a recently announced investment by Goldman Sachs in a Utah preschool program. The $4.6 million “social impact bond” Goldman issued will only profit the firm if the program meets its goals of reducing the need for remedial education, meaning taxpayers will only end up paying for it if it works. The idea of social impact bonds from for-profit financiers has its critics, and its proponents acknowledge it’s a brand new idea without proven results, but Clinton’s embrace of the idea is part of a larger effort to cajole the private sector into sharing the responsibility for childhood development.
Clinton’s effort comes with some clever branding that plays off of the financial sector’s recent legacy of wreaking havoc on the middle-class economy. Her speech complements the rollout of a new organization called Too Small To Fail, a joint effort of Next Generation and the Clinton Foundation (formerly the Clinton Global Initiative) to bolster research into brain development, inform and encourage parents to employ the findings of such research with their kids, and lobby businesses to improve conditions for working parents.
Business leaders have called on the government to expand preschool funding, and the complementary efforts Clinton is asking of those leaders should help create a positive feedback loop of benefits for kids. Each dollar committed to early childhood development yields $7 in future savings, a statistic Clinton referenced in her speech. America lags much of the developed world in early education and substantial public-private partnerships can play an important role in closing that gap.