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Economist lays groundwork for early education

Art Rolnick speaks about the importance of early childhood development Tuesday night in the Summit Room at the St. James. This was Every Hand Joined’s first public forum. (Republican Eagle photo by John R. Russett)

Art Rolnick said Tuesday that investing in early childhood education is the best investment a community can make, which is one of the reasons he sees Red Wing joining the cause with Every Hand Joined as an important step in the right direction.

After looking at the data from the HighScope Perry Preschool Study years ago, Rolnick said it became clear that investing in early childhood education yielded high returns – they projected returns close to 18 percent – with savings in areas such as reduction in crime, fewer children in need of special education, and a more highly qualified workforce.

The distinction between prior arguments for investment in early child development and the argument Rolnick, a senior fellow and co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, presents is the change from a moral to an economic argument.

In 2003 Rolnick, along with colleague Rob Grunewald, published the paper “Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return,” which laid out the argument for investment in early childhood development and received national attention.

“Investment in human capital breeds economic success not only for those being educated, but also for the overall economy,” the Rolnick and Grunewald collaboration reads.

The frustrating part of the research, Rolnick said, is the numbers are there for all to see, but taxpayers’ dollars continue to be spent in frivolous ways.

“When you’re spending, whatever it is, half a billion on the Vikings and $250 million on the Mall of America without this kind of research something is wrong with your decision-making process and it needs to be fixed now,” he said.

Gov. Mark Dayton, in his State of the State speech earlier this month, said increasing commitment to early childhood education will be an important aspect of closing the achievement gap and encouraged engagement in the goal of giving all 3- and 4-year-olds in the state access to quality, affordable early childhood education.

Rolnick said while Minnesota is making progress toward the governor’s goal, recognition of a numbers-based approach is picking up and the idea has received support from the business community, some have been reluctant to get on board.

The state isn’t ready to invest $150 million to $200 million per year in quality early education, Rolnick said, adding even some educators don’t entirely trust the economic approach.

Rolnick said the state has implemented programs to fund early childhood programming for at-risk families in about five communities so far, and he is seeing other communities take up projects of their own – like Red Wing’s Every Hand Joined.

The importance of communities joining the effort cannot be overstated, he said, and it shows politicians this kind of programming isn’t just about inner-city schools.

“This is all around the state we’ve got children born in to poverty and these programs are critical to that community’s success,” Rolnick said. “You won’t find a better public investment.”

HighScope Perry Preschool Study

A study done in Ypsilani, Michigan, from 1962 to 1967 provided high-quality preschool programming to children age 3 and 4 and studied the impact through age 40. The study took children born in poverty and randomly divided them in to two groups – one group receiving early childhood programming and the other as the control group.

The study found at 5 years ago, 67 percent of the program group had an IQ above 90 compared to 28 percent of the control group. The difference in basic achievement at age 14 was 49 percent of the program group to 15 percent of the control group.

Students who received preschool programming graduated at a rate of 17 percent higher than those who did not. At 40 years old, 20 percent more program students earned more than $20,000 a year.

The study showed a return of $12.90 to the public for every dollar invested in the program, with 88 percent of that coming from crime savings.

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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