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‘Small’ investments yield big returns

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Susan Schimke
May 10, 2011

Lawmakers across the country face two major challenges: managing shrinking budgets and supporting policies that will strengthen America’s workforce and get our economy growing again. Our nation’s prosperity depends on both.


Surprising to some is the role that high-quality early childhood education plays in fostering our nation’s prosperity and the well-being of all Wisconsinites. Can it really be true that the quality of care our children receive before kindergarten can have tangible economic effects?


According to multiple research studies and the work by Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman, the answer is an unequivocal “yes!” Research has found that investments in early childhood education are cost-efficient; improve children’s later education, health and economic outcomes; and decrease use of future public dollars for special education, grade retention and welfare.


During the course of their lives, children who experience quality early-learning programs will likely be healthier, more self-sufficient and less likely to enter the criminal justice system. That adds up to as much as a $17 economic return for every $1 invested.


“Money talks” as they say. And the recently passed 2011 federal budget speaks volumes about smart investment of financial resources. Head Start got an increase of $340 million more than the 2010 budget, enough to maintain the children currently enrolled, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant got a $100 million increase. For Wisconsin, the 2011 budget package will provide an estimated $4.3 million for Head Start and $1.3 million for child care—more than the 2010 budget level.


Early Head Start, Head Start and Child Care Development Block Grant programs provide early childhood education for 2.5 million American families. These programs help children develop cognitive skills that researchers say are the building blocks for future success in life.


In Wisconsin, there’s a commendable history of bipartisan support for quality early childhood education. Legislators have supported a strong Wisconsin Shares child-care subsidy program, effective Head Start programs and YoungStar—a child-care quality rating and improvement system.


In tough financial times, it is crucial to invest in programs that bring back positive social and economic returns to society, saving money in the long-term. Investments in early education programs will do just that.


We are gratified that lawmakers on the federal and state levels continue to recognize this,and we hope that investments in early education programs will continue in the future.


Susan Schimke of Clinton is vice president of the Board of Directors, Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, 744 Williamson, Suite 200, Madison, WI 53703. She can be reached at (608) 364-4256 (Angel Academy in Beloit) or by e-mail at seschimke@gmail.com.

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