Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

John E. Pepper Jr. and James Zimmerman, two prominent corporate leaders, recently took to the pages of The New York Times to declare universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten “not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.”

Pepper is a former chairman and chief executive of Procter & Gamble and a former chairman of the Walt Disney Company. Zimmerman is a former chairman and chief executive of Macy’s.

“Children who attend high-quality preschool do much better when they arrive in kindergarten, and this makes an enormous difference for their later success,” they write in a Times op-ed. “The data on preschool is overwhelmingly positive. Although some studies suggest that the positive impact decreases over time, this is mainly attributable to differences in the quality of preschool and of the schooling that follows — not a deficiency in preschool itself.”

Pepper and Zimmerman cite a 2010 report from the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which notes future savings of $2.50 to $17 for each dollar invested in high-quality early education. They cite Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman’s estimate of a 7-10% return on investment. They cite research that finds children who struggle with reading in third grade are four times less likely than other children to finish high school by 19.

“The connections from preschool to reading proficiency to high school completion — a bare-minimum requirement in today’s economy — could not be clearer,” they write. “Universally available prekindergarten is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Raising lifetime wages (and thereby tax revenues) and reducing the likelihood that children will drop out of school, get involved in crime, and become a burden on the justice system more than make up for the costs of early childhood education. …

“We have spent most of our careers in business and have come to support quality prekindergarten for all children, especially those whose families cannot afford it, because we know these programs work. The only question is how to bring them to a huge scale. Our nation’s future demands it. If there ever was a nonpartisan issue, this is it.”