The Benefits and Cost of Investing in Early Childhood Education

Robery Lynch & Kavya Vaghul

A fundamental challenge confronting the United States is how to generate faster and more widely shared economic growth, or equitable growth, now and well into the future. A large body of research across a variety of academic disciplines demonstrates that investments in the education of future workers can improve educational achievement and narrow socioeconomic-based achievement gaps, both of which can accelerate economic growth and promote more equal opportunity over time. Previous research shows that educational achievement and attainment are key determinants of both overall economic growth and individual earnings. This body of research, however, does not always identify how we can raise academic achievement or calculate the costs and benefits of investments that do so.

This study describes and analyzes the costs and benefits of one specific educational initiative: public investment in a voluntary, high-quality universal prekindergarten education program made available to all 3- and 4-year-old children across the United States. Such an investment would boost educational achievement, improve economic growth rates, and raise standards of living across the income spectrum. It also would strengthen the economy’s competitiveness long into the future while simultaneously easing a host of fiscal, social, and health problems.

Research is increasingly demonstrating that investments in education provide significant benefits to children, families, and society as a whole, accelerating economic growth and promoting opportunity over time. This study describes and analyzes the benefits and costs of investing in a public, voluntary, high-quality universal prekindergarten program made available to all 3- and 4-year-olds across the United States. By breaking down these benefits and costs at the state and national levels, we show how such a program would strengthen the U.S. economy’s competitiveness while simultaneously easing a host of fiscal, social, and health problems. Over time, the program would more than pay for itself: By 2050, a universal prekindergarten program would yield $8.90 in benefits for every dollar invested and $304.7 billion in total benefits. If the ultimate aim of public policy is to promote the well-being of individuals, families, communities, and nations, then investment in early childhood education is clearly an effective strategy.

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