Preserving programs versus making needed investments

Irene Sage, at the blog “Eye on Early Education” of the Massachusetts-based Strategies for Children, has a useful post summarizing recent federal funding trends for early childhood programs.  Another useful recent post on recent federal funding decisions is by Laura Bornfreund of Early Ed Watch, a blog run by the DC-based New America Foundation.

The summary is that the final 2010-2011 federal appropriations for early childhood programs largely preserved these programs. Head Start had been threatened with a major cut. It ended up being increased by $340 million, to $7.575 billion. The Child Care and Development Block Grant was increased by $100 million, to $2.227 billion. Finally, a provision was added allowing states to use “Race to the Top” funds, which are intended to support comprehensive educational system reforms, for improvements in early education and care.

This preservation or slight percentage increase in federal early childhood funds is good news. However, it should not be confused with the major investments needed for early childhood programs to reach their full potential.

For early childhood programs to have major effects on aggregate American productivity, economic growth, and standards of living, two conditions must hold. First, we must make investments in early childhood programs that are high quality, in that they have a high impact per dollar invested. Second, we must make large dollar investments.  We cannot achieve large aggregate economic impacts without investments that are both high-quality and large.

Increasing early childhood investments by $440 million in the U.S. as a whole is an increase in investment of a little less than $1.50 per capita. To reach large aggregate impacts on the U.S. economy, we probably need to make investments in early childhood programs of an additional $20 or $30 per capita, at a minimum. For example, the estimated cost of universal pre-k education for all four-year olds is about $30 per capita. Universal pre-k for all four-year-olds would have large aggregate impacts on either the national economy, if pursued nationally, or on a state economy if pursued by one state.

I don’t think the federal government over the next 5 or 10 years is likely to make early childhood investments of the scale needed.  If the needed investments are to be made, they are more likely to be made at the state level.

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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