Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Investing in little kids pays big

When we have money to invest, we want to put it somewhere that will give us high returns on our dollar. Our government should be looking at its investments in the same way. An excellent place for investment is our very young children, who pay big dividends to society and government when they receive the right sort of stimulation and care in their early years. Investing in babies and preschoolers is a rather long-term investment, but Washington is taking the long view and drafting a plan to devote more resources to early education.

Fascinating studies on the economic impact of early childhood programs, like preschool and parent education classes, have found that one dollar invested in these programs results in up to six dollars being returned to the government in the form of taxes and from the reduced need for social services, and up to four dollars returned to society from reduced crime. These numbers aren't escaping notice. Through his own childhood development research, Nobel Prize winner in economics James J. Heckman, Ph.D. has concluded that, “It’s good business to invest in young children.”

According to Dr. Heckman:
Early learning begets later learning and early success breeds later success, just as early failure breeds later failure. Success or failure at this stage lays the foundation for success or failure in school, which in turn leads to success or failure in post-school learning.
Washington is seriously considering how to invest in early education. Last spring, Governor Gregoire cut provisions for early learning programs for at-risk kids out of the successful basic education reform bill, HB 2261, but not because she isn't a believer. Gregoire had something larger in mind. The governor is so serious about the value of strong early learning programs that she wants to include all children, not just at-risk kids, in any programs’ scope.

In a letter to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn this summer, Governor Gregoire wrote:
I am asking you to work on a proposal about the state’s role in providing early learning opportunities for all children birth to five, their families, early learning caregivers and educators. I believe that children should have early learning opportunities from birth.
A group of more than 120 educators, parents, stakeholders and policy makers are preparing a draft statewide early learning plan which is due to the governor on December 1. This committee welcomes input from the public, so take a look at the work done so far (scroll down to the bottom of the page) and make your comments.

It costs society far less to give a kid a strong start in life than to correct deficiencies in a child's education later.


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