I want to present a different idea for why investing in early childhood education makes sense as a public investment.
It’s a different idea because, usually, when people talk about early childhood programs, they talk about all the wonderful benefits for participants … better K-12 test skills, better adult earnings. And that’s all very important — but what I want to talk about is what preschool does for state economies, and for promoting state economic development. And that’s absolutely crucial, because if we’re going to get that increased investment in early childhood programs, we need to interest state governments in this.
If you look at the research evidence — that’s extensive — on how much early childhood programs affect the educational attainment, wages, and skills of former participants in pre-school as adults, and you take those known effects — you take how many of those folks will be expected to stick around the state’s local economy and not move out — and you take research on how much skills drive job creation, you will conclude from these three separate lines of research, that for every dollar invested in early childhood programs, the per capita earnings of state residents go up by $2.78. That’s a 3 to 1 return.
Now you can get much higher returns — of up to 16 to 1 — if you include anti-crime benefits; if you include benefits to former preschool participants that moved to some other state; but there’s a good reason for focusing on these $3 because this is salient and important to state legislators and state policymakers. And it’s the states who are going to have to act.
For more of Bartik’s insights on early childhood education and economics in the US, watch his whole talk here »