Few would contest the idea that a child's experiences during the first few years of life provide the foundation for the capabilities needed to succeed in school and beyond--for cognitive functioning; for behavioral, social, and self-regulatory capacities; and for physical health. Early childhood education can increase the likelihood that young children will have the best possible opportunity to develop these capacities, but not just any preschool will do.
Researchers at the RAND Corporation have demonstrated that quality matters, a key argument of the Strong Start Tucson initiative. Children tend to prosper more in preschools where teachers are better educated and child-to-staff ratios are smaller. Of course, these features increase the cost compared to, say, a daycare center that provides basic custodial care. But detailed cost-benefit analyses have shown that the benefits from early childhood education can be translated into dollars and cents. In the RAND study, estimates of benefits per child served, net of program costs, range from about $1,400 per child to nearly $240,000 per child. In other words, the returns to society for each dollar invested extend from $1.80 to $17.07. Some of the largest estimates of net benefits were found for programs with the longest follow-up, because those studies measured the impact for outcomes that most readily translate into dollar benefits (e.g., employment benefits, crime reduction). Large economic returns were found for programs that required a large investment (over $40,000 per child), but returns were also positive for programs that cost considerably less (under $2,000 per child).
The RAND researchers focused on benefits directly associated with the child's subsequent behavior--for instance. school completion, employment, and involvement in crime. But they argue that communities may also see advantages that accrue through parents whose children participate in such programs. If children are well cared for in programs with predictable hours and reliable staffing, parents may be able to participate more effectively in the labor market, reducing absenteeism and turnover, both of which impose significant costs on employers. The availability of a qualified, productive workforce is always an important factor in the competition to attract and retain businesses. Through Strong Start Tucson, we can provide resources to help modern families flourish and also demonstrate that we are a forward-looking community, prepared to provide the resources that growing businesses seek.
Karoly, Lynn A., Rebecca Rebecca Kilburn and Jill S. Cannon. Proven Benefits of Early Childhood Interventions. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9145.html