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.
If you invest in high-quality preschool, it develops the skills of your local workforce and, in turn, that higher-quality local workforce will be a key driver of creating jobs and creating higher earnings per capita in the local community.
If you look at the research on how much early childhood programs affect the educational attainment, wages, and skills of former participants in preschool as adults … and you take research on how much skills drive job creation, you will conclude 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 dollars because this is salient and important to state legislators and state policymakers. And it’s the states who are going to have to act.
Now, one objection you often hear is, ‘Why should I pay more taxes to invest in other people’s children? What’s in it for me?’ And the trouble with that objection is it reflects a total misunderstanding of how much local economies involve everyone being interdependent. When we invest in other people’s children, and build up those skills, we increase the overall job growth of a metro area.
Ultimately, this is something we’re investing in now for the future. Are we willing, as Americans, or are we as a society still capable of making the political choice to sacrifice now by paying more taxes in order to improve the long-term future of not only our kids, but our community? That’s something that each and every citizen and voter needs to ask themselves. Is that something that you are still invested in, that you still believe in the notion of investment? That is the notion of investment. You sacrifice now for a return later.