Teaching kids early lighter on the wallet
Arizona Republic
Jul. 8, 2007

Saturday morning in New York City.

Editorial writers from across the country were listening to speakers at Columbia University's Teachers College talk about early-childhood education.

There were PowerPoint presentations and thoughtful talks by professors and policy experts. Coffee was available for those who had ventured out the night before to see if this really was a city that never sleeps. Then, Daniel Rose, the human equivalent of a triple espresso, took the podium.

Chairman of Rose Associates Inc., a New York-based real estate firm, and former director of the U.S. Trust Corp., he is a no-nonsense kind of guy.

He shouted. He gestured. He told the writers in that room exactly what this is all about: Public investment in high-quality early-childhood education does not cost.

"It pays," he said. "Put that in your newspapers."

Simple. Unequivocal.

Here was a businessman making a fiscal argument for what the social scientists had been describing in human terms.

This wasn't touchy-feely. This was return on investment.

This wasn't a careful explanation of how impoverished children in Maryland's Montgomery County went from underperforming to surpassing the 70th percentile in math four years after the district began pumping $12,000 per student into early-childhood education.

It wasn't an outline of what happened in Delaware, where 73 percent of children who went through a comprehensive preschool program met the reading standard in elementary school. Only 57 percent of those who had not been in the program passed.

He didn't mention Rosita, a Delaware preschooler who did not speak and was diagnosed as learning disabled until the program's medical screening found she was suffering from gum disease. After treatment and speech therapy, she was fine.

It wasn't about New Jersey, where a court order to increase funding in 33 poor school districts resulted in programs where preschool teachers need degrees and specialized training.

He didn't mention Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who launched a publicly funded program for at-risk 4-year-olds that he plans to expand until it offers all parents the option of putting their children in state-approved preschool classes in public schools, private centers and church basements.

"I think what grown-ups do is make things a little better for the next generation," the Democratic governor said.

Rose didn't dispute the moral arguments, but he said they are eclipsed by an economic one. We don't need to do this because it's "good," we should do it because it's smart.

He cited a research paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis that says public investment in early-childhood programs should be "at the top" of economic-development lists for state and local governments. Why? Because they "yield extraordinary public returns."

Critics of Head Start like to say that educational advantages gained by children in these programs can fade in elementary school. But there are other benefits. Researchers tracked adults who had gone through high-quality early-education programs decades ago. The preschool grads were less likely to wind up in special-education programs, less likely to become teen parents, less likely to be incarcerated, more likely to graduate from high school. They also earned more as adults.

Those preschool programs were better than Head Start and nothing at all like the kind of child care that is reality for most parents of small children.
The early-childhood educators at the Hechinger Institute and National Conference of Editorial Writers seminar told us about a few impressive but elite programs. Most parents don't have access to publicly funded preschool, but they need a place for their children to spend long days. All they can afford is what is offered by minimally trained, poorly paid workers whose high turnover rate leaves young children reeling from the instability of it all.

That represents a huge, wasted opportunity.

This isn't the fault of greedy child-care providers. They can't do much more unless they price middle-class parents out of the market.

The marketplace hasn't met this need because it can't.

Yet high-quality programs pay dividends for decades.

For professors, this might be a dilemma to discuss.

For Rose, a successful businessman, it's an investment opportunity the public sector should not pass up.

High-quality early-childhood programs are easier than remediation and cheaper than prison. Kids who succeed grow up to pay more taxes.

"Put that in your newspaper!" Rose shouted.

Reach the writer at linda.valdez@arizonarepublic.com or check out her blog at www.azcentral.com/members/Blog/Valdez.