Early childhood education, for those familiar with it, is of immense value, but to many people, it doesn’t seem to work out that way. Quality early childhood programs are expensive, and budgets have to get cut somewhere, right? But the same people who might support cutting funding to early childhood programs might also turn around and invest in the stock market, because that’s something they understand.

The next time those people tell you early childhood isn’t worth it, you can tell them this: investing in early childhood education has about a 13 percent return on investment, which is leagues ahead of the stock market. That should get their attention.

A study co-authored by Nobel laureate James Heckman of the University of Chicago lays out the reasons for the high return on investment with high-quality early childhood education program

“What we’ve done is shown the benefits across two generations of the study of enriched early child care programs. Not only providing child care for working mothers—allowing them to get more education—but primarily to get more work experience, higher earning gains through participating in the workforce, but also getting high-quality child care environments that turns out to be developmentally rich,” Heckman told NPR. “It promotes social mobility within and across generations.”

The reason that quality early childhood education is a good investment is that it is, quite literally, an investment in the future. It helps kids develop better learning habits, helps to keep them in school longer, helps them learn to take better care of themselves, and helps reduce crime rates because these children have a better chance of staying out of trouble in the first place. All of that pays back into the national and local economies because these children grow up to be workers who contribute to the economy. They’re better educated so they get better jobs, they have more self-control so they take better care of themselves and don’t have to spend as much on health care.

There are, of course, a lot of factors involved here, and that’s where the details get lost and people fail to see the connection between early childhood education and improving economies. They don’t think about how important education is to keeping people “off the streets” and helping them to develop into citizens and workers who contribute to the world around them. But educators not only can see those connections; they have the training to help explain it to people who don’t.

Photo CC-BY Seattle Parks

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