Sharon Koogler is right in her March 28 letter to say it is wrong to invest in preschool education just because others are. On the other hand, it might be wise to consider why economic powerhouses like China and South Korea and 40 other states are doing so.
Mountains of scientific and economic evidence demonstrate that children who have nurturing parents and high-quality early-learning experiences are far more likely to become the adults we want to hire, help pay our taxes, protect our nation and marry our children. Those who don’t benefit from positive early-childhood experiences are far more likely to grow up to rely on government assistance, spend time in jail and emergency rooms at taxpayer expense, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty for generations to come.
Koogler suggests that other states should emulate Indiana. Why would they want to emulate a state that ranks 39th in per capita income, 41st in health of its citizens and below the national average for post-secondary degree attainment? Does she know that Indiana has the 21st-highest incarceration rate in the United States, which leads the world in incarceration with 2.2 million in prison or jail? How long can we keep balancing our government and personal budgets without addressing the root causes of poor health, low incomes, unsatisfactory education outcomes and crime? During this current school year, for example, Indiana is spending $17 million teaching 3,600 children who were held back in kindergarten. Does it make sense to pay for kindergarten twice, or is it better to solve the root of the problem?
Providing high-quality early learning costs money, but the financial returns to families, taxpayers and society are huge, especially when we invest in children from disadvantaged families. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has shown that the return on investment is 7 to 10 percent for every year of a child’s life. That is better than long-term returns for the stock market and amounts to an average $7 return for every $1 invested.
The only thing wrong with investing in preschool for 4-year-olds is we could get a greater payback by starting even earlier. That’s because the basic architecture of the brain begins to form before birth and undergoes its most dramatic development before age 3. Better prenatal health, home visiting services that teach parents how to parent effectively, and high-quality child care for ages 0-3 help create a strong foundation for all future learning, behavior and health.
High-quality early-childhood experiences achieve even more when sustained with effective education through to adulthood, but they are the foundation of all that follows. We can pay now or pay much more later. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of paying more later.