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Early Childhood Education – A Great Return on Investment

Ruberball/Jessica Peterson-Getty Images

In a phone meeting with some of my colleagues at Parenting before I started writing for this blog, I was describing my take on education policy and I said that it was important to me to remain fairly neutral on most topics in this debate-filled world of education reform, especially until I’d done my due diligence in researching each topic.

One woman interjected that some things we can pretty much all agree on, like early literacy.  And it was true, we could all agree on the importance of early literacy, meaning all of us on that call, but not everyone can.  I have friends who believe that children should initiate any learning and that as parents we need to follow their lead or risk killing forever their love of learning by introducing concepts too early.    

Others may agree that early childhood education is important but don’t want to spend taxpayer money to make it available to all children.  There are multiple sides to any story but today I present the case for funding and supporting early childhood education.

In January, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “High quality Early Childhood Education programs are arguably the best investment our country can make.”  I assumed he was talking about an investment, as in, “an investment in our future,” or, “an investment in improving the lives of young people,” not an actual financial investment.   

But a National Institutes of Health study published this month shows that ECE really is an investment that pays off, not only developmentally but also financially for both the children enrolled in ECE programs and tax payers.  The study followed participants from Chicago-based, federally funded Child-Parent Centers until age 26 to find out how their participation in the program paid off. 

An article in USA Today reports that “each dollar spent on the program generated $4 to $11 in return, both because children finished high school or college, earning more than their peers, and also because participants were less likely to be held back, arrested, depressed, involved with drugs or sick.”

In a time when budgets are tight and education funding is facing staggering cuts, early education programs could be a way to spend money where it will be most developmentally and fiscally effective. 

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler, and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at The Parenting Post, and occasionally the gym.

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