Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children
Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

When Massachusetts Governor Patrick unveiled his plan for major new investments in high-quality early education last week he said, “This is not only about their social and economic future; it’s about ours.”

A new report from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst summarizes the research behind this statement. (See Early Childhood Education as an Essential Component of Economic Development with Reference to the New England States.)

“The economic development impact of K-12 and higher education is widely acknowledged, but the role of early childhood education is often given insufficient attention,” writes UMass economist Arthur MacEwan.

“It is highly desirable and valuable to society for state governments to support universal early childhood education. In doing so, governments will be putting in place an essential component of economic development, a component that will provide both a long-run foundation for their states’ economic development and an immediate boost to their states’ economic progress. Moreover, they will be providing an important service to families and strengthening equality of opportunity.”

MacEwan cites benefits that high-quality programs have on everything from children’s educational attainment to their improved later earnings and reduced social burden. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, MacEwan notes, estimates a 7-10% return on investment that outpaces the performance of the stock market since World War II, which averaged 6.9% before the 2008 crash.  Heckman calculates a benefit of $7-$12 for every dollar spent on high-quality early education.  MacEwan notes the positive impact that high-quality education and care has on the productivity of working parents. “It is clear that high-quality programs make substantial contributions to the lives of young children and yield high returns to society’s investment in them,” he writes.

MacEwan also places early education and care in a broader context. “Accomplishments will be constrained,” he writes, “by the quality of the programs themselves, by the larger environment, particularly the conditions in children’s families, and by the quality of the schools that the children attend after their early childhood experiences.”

And he argues for universal access to high-quality early education.

There is no reasonable basis on which to justify treating younger children—4-year-olds, for example—differently from older children—6-year-olds and 7-year-olds, for example—in terms of access,” MacEwan writes. “Quality education has a great impact on children in their early years, before they are eligible for free public education – perhaps greater than in any of their later years, when they are eligible for free public education.”

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center summarizes the report in a new brief.

(Post script. I heard from Arthur MacEwan that the link I was provided was to an earlier draft of the report. This post now links to the final report and includes a corrected long-term average return of the stock market.)