An economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis says it’s difficult for politicians to vote to spend money on preschool programs because the payback from that investment is likely to come long after they’ve left office.
Rob Grunewald spoke this morning at the Iowa capitol. “From elected officials, it takes some courage to make an investment in early childhood because you’re not going to see the return — the full return — right away,” Grunewald said.
“You certainly will see reductions in special education placements and grade retention quite early, but to fully achieve that high return, you’ve got to wait 10, 15 years down the road.”
Grunewald is the co-author of a 2003 study which found the biggest return on investment in education came from the tax dollars spent on preschool.
“Most of the benefits accrue to the non-participants or to the taxpayers,” Grunewald said. “This means you don’t even have to like children to achieve a high return on investment. I mean, you can be Scrooge before his enlightenment and achieve this high return.”
Grunewald argued focusing on early childhood development is economic development because kids who go to preschool are likely to earn more money as adults than those who didn’t get to go to preschool.
“Where children are relative to their peers at kindergarten is where they tend to stay,” Grunewald said.
AUDIO of Grunewald’s remarks (mp3 runs 7.5 minutes).
Grunewald was the keynote speaker at Early Childhood Iowa’s lobbying day at the statehouse.
In 2007, former Democratic Governor Chet Culver launched state-paid, voluntary preschool for four-year-olds in Iowa. When he retook office in 2011, Republican Governor Terry Branstad tried to switch to preschool scholarships just for low-income students, but ran into opposition and eventually abandoned the idea. Today, 320 Iowa school districts offer tuition-free preschool for four-year-olds….