The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Ben Bernanke, made a strong statement last night on the need for early childhood education. His statement was made in a speech to the Citizens Budget Commission of New York. Dr. Bernanke made his statement as part of a speech discussing the budget challenges facing state and local governments.
While acknowledging the need for budget balancing, Dr. Bernanke went on to argue that one of the key state and local budget issues is how to foster economic growth. Further, one of the best ways to do so is to invest in early childhood education. The full text of the speech is here. The key portion of the speech relative to early childhood education is as follows:
“In the long run,… the most important fiscal issue is whether the structure and composition of the government budget best serves the public interest. Certainly, most people would support the goal of fostering healthy economic growth. Government can contribute to this objective in a number of ways. One critical means is by ensuring an adequate investment in human capital–that is, in the knowledge and skills of our people. No economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalization and technical change. Cost-effective K-12 and post-secondary schooling are crucial to building a better workforce, but they are only part of the story. Research increasingly has shown the benefits of early childhood education and efforts to promote the lifelong acquisition of skills for both individuals and the economy as a whole. The payoffs of early childhood programs can be especially high. For instance, preschool programs for disadvantaged children have been shown to increase high school graduation rates. Because high school graduates have higher earnings, pay more taxes, and are less likely to use public health programs, investing in such programs can pay off even from the narrow perspective of state budgets; of course, the returns to the overall economy and to the individuals themselves are much greater. “
Obviously Dr. Bernanke’s message supports the arguments being made in state capitals by many early childhood advocates. His message is entirely consistent with the data and research provided by my book Investing in Kids: any serious state and local economic development strategy must include high-quality investments in early childhood programs.
Dr. Bernanke’s support indicates that high-quality early childhood programs are viewed as important by relatively conservative economists concerned with long-run economic growth. Dr. Bernanke previously served as chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush.