Dr. Art Rolnick, former research director of the Minneapolis Fed, recently testified before the U.S. Congress on early childhood programs as economic development programs. The hearing and Dr. Rolnick’s testimony was requested by Senator Al Franken, who also questioned Dr. Rolnick.
Dr. Rolnick’s 2003 paper (with his colleague Rob Grunewald) was largely responsible for popularizing the idea that early childhood programs should be viewed as economic development programs. My book, “Investing in Kids”, is in large part aimed at documenting in great depth the economic development case for early childhood programs.
A brief video (five minutes) of some of Dr. Rolnick’s testimony, and Senator Franken’s questioning, is available via Senator Franken’s website. The testimony focuses on some of the strange economic priorities we have, in which funds are widely available for sports stadium projects (which I have commented on before), but not for early childhood programs.
Dr. Rolnick makes the following statement:
“It’s regularly acknowledged by the political system, by the populace, by educators, that the best investment we could have is making sure that all our at-risk kids start school healthy and ready to learn….[In Minnesota], they’re going to find a way to fund a $1 billion stadium for the Minnesota Vikings….For $1 billion, we could provide an endowed fund so that [in the Twin Cities], every poverty child could have a scholarship [for early care and education] and mentor starting pre-natal in perpetuity.”
As the hearing discusses, early childhood programs provide “win-win” benefits in that the entire nation benefits from a state’s investment in early childhood programs. In contrast, competing for sports stadiums is closer to a zero-sum game, in which one state’s gain is offset by another state’s loss. (I’ve commented on the national benefits of state business incentives in several blog posts, such as this one. I’ve also commented on the national benefits of early childhood programs.)
Senator Franken finishes off the video by saying:
“I prefer win-win to zero-sum”.
Dr. Rolnick has often been skeptical of government interventions in the market. His strong support for early childhood programs is attributable to the rigor of the research evidence for these programs’ large benefits relative to costs.