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Billions Are At Stake in the Push for PreK

The savings in public money spent on social services combined with the economic benefits generated by more productive citizens can add up to hundreds of billions -- that's billions -- of dollars over several decades. The engine that can create such vast wealth is early childhood education.

That's the unambiguous conclusion of research by economist Robert G. Lynch (Enriching Children, Enriching the Nation, 2007)and published and distributed by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington-based nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.

The research shows that high-quality programs would save states and the federal government billions of dollars over decades.

Lynch studied the costs and benefits of preK programs and their positive impact over time on federal and state budgets, crime costs, and the earnings of participating children and adults. He examined the impacts of high-quality universal programs that serve all 3- and 4-year olds, as well as those targeted to 3- and 4-year old children from families in the lowest quarter of income distribution.

According to the study, the total annual benefits of a universal program would begin to pay for itself within nine years and would do so by a growing margin every year thereafter.

Among the highlights included in a fact sheet provided by EPI about the research is:

"Even if states paid almost all costs of a targeted program -- with the federal government simply maintaining its current commitments to pre-K education -- the annual state government budget benefits of the program after 44 years would surpass the annual state program costs by a ratio of 2.15 to 1. When compensation and crime reduction benefits are added to the state budget benefits, total annual benefits in 2050 would exceed the program costs in every state, by a minimum of 7.9 to 1 in Alabama and by as much as 28.8 to 1 in Delaware."

The initial study released in the spring of 2007 was significantly augmented over the summer with the release of fact sheets for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

According to the data, investment in preK programs would almost immediately pay for itself.

In Connecticut a targeted program would begin to pay for itself just a year after implementation. In several states like Minnesota, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Alaska, a similar targeted program would beign to pay for itself after three years.

In another example, investment in universal preK in Texas would generate $75.9 billion in total benefits by 2050.

State policy makers apparently are finding this and other research showing similar results to be compelling. Moves to offer more preK programs and expand half-day to full-day kindergarten are being made in many states.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August:

In Washington and statehouses across the country, preschool is moving to the head of the class.

Florida and Oklahoma are among the states that have started providing free preschool for any 4-year-old whose parents want it. Illinois and New York plan to do the same. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to spend $15 billion over five years on universal preschool funding. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke calls preschool one cure for inequality.

The movement represents one of the most significant expansions in public education in the 90 years since World War I, when kindergarten first became standard in American schools. It has taken off as politicians look for relatively inexpensive ways to tackle the growing rich-poor gap in the U.S. They have found spending on children is usually an easy sell....

"Politicians have a choice to make. They can do things like build sports stadiums that offer virtually no economic return, or they can invest in early education programs with a 16% rate of return," says Art Rolnick, the Minneapolis Fed official, who came up with that number after reviewing a three-decade study of youngsters growing up in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Related Content

Enriching Children, Enriching the Nation (May 2007) - Public investment in high-quality prekindergarten. Economic Policy Institute.

Fact Sheet: Enriching Children, Enriching the Nation - Overall economic and other benefits of quality preK programs at a glance.

State Fact Sheets from Enriching Children, Enriching the Nation - Learn the potential benefits of quality preK programs specifically for your state.

States Embracing PreK, Full-Day K Programs - Many states are offering more preK programs and expanding half-day to full-day kindergarten.

September 2007