How Early Childhood is an Investment in the Future

September 15, 2021 1:40 PM
by Ivy Chang

It’s fall in Santa Monica. We are over a year into the pandemic and thousands of children are back to school in person, including some of our youngest learners, in child cares and preschools across the City. While COVID-19 remains an ongoing concern, there are also signs of hope. For the first time since the pandemic started, 97% of licensed child care providers in Santa Monica are open (up from a low of 16% in March 2020)—allowing parents to return to work and our economy a chance to recover. Included among that 97% is the long-awaited Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School, housed in colorful buildings on 4th Street, next to Historic Belmar Park and across the street from Samohi.

Photo by Amy Williams Photography

Photo by Amy Williams Photography

Built by Santa Monica College (SMC), on City property, and operated by Growing Place, the Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School has a dual mandate to provide high-quality early education to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, and serve as a demonstration site for students in Santa Monica College’s NAEYC-accredited early childhood education (ECE) program. (SMC was the first college in Southern California to achieve accreditation according to the rigorous standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.) Children of Santa Monica residents and workforce will learn together in the state-of-the-art facility, designed with both early learners and sustainability in mind (the project is expected to receive LEED Gold certification). To fully succeed in its goals as a teaching and learning facility, the school seeks to serve a wide range of Santa Monica families and—with generous support from the Santa Monica/Westside Legacy Fund for Women and Girls and the RAND Corporation Development Agreement with the City of Santa Monica—offers tuition assistance to our most vulnerable families to do so.

Photo by Amy Williams Photography

The foresight to include a child care center in the Civic Center Specific Plan almost 30 years ago, reflects our community’s commitment to following the science and investing in our youngest residents (and their families) as a deposit on our future. It also aligns closely with the City Council’s priority of cultivating an equitable and inclusive economic recovery. The ripple effects of a quality early childhood program are felt far beyond the immediate benefits of providing enrolled children a safe and stimulating environment in which to learn and develop. Their parents gain uninterrupted work time to support their families. Local businesses (and the economy) benefit from increased employee productivity. And, in the case of a lab school, college students have the chance to not only learn, but observe best practices that will inform their future careers as education and early childhood professionals.

Additionally, since early childhood development drives success in school and life, there are continued payoffs as children grow. High-quality ECE programs benefit all children, and, unsurprisingly, have the greatest impact on those who are most in need, improving health and educational outcomes and increasing self-sufficiency, while decreasing the need for special education, juvenile justice programs, and other social services. As economist James Heckman has long advocated, investing in early childhood education for at-risk children is an unparalleled strategy for improving outcomes and reducing future social costs.

As we struggle to agree on solutions for the urgent social concerns of our day, including housing insecurity and homelessness, we must pay equal if not increased attention to preventive and upstream strategies to ensure we are giving our future generations the best start from cradle to career. When local and national data show that disparities exist as early as kindergarten, especially among children from different racial and ethnic groups and socioeconomic statuses, we know that families need more support earlier on. The Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School is one example of an innovative collaboration between community partners to leverage resources towards addressing these inequities. If we care about eliminating disparities, promoting economic growth, and reducing future poverty and crime, then we must continue to make similarly bold partnerships and investments with the wellbeing of our youngest at the forefront.

For a list of licensed child care in Santa Monica, go to

For more information about the Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School, go to

Authored By

Ivy Chang
Senior Administrative Analyst


Youth And Seniors