Early Years

July 11, 2001 2 min read
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Preschool Payoffs: Several studies have shown that well-designed preschool programs can be a wise educational investment for disadvantaged children. But a new study suggests that, financially speaking, the payoff to the public may be just as good.

Preschool Payoffs: Several studies have shown that well-designed preschool programs can be a wise educational investment for disadvantaged children. But a new study suggests that, financially speaking, the payoff to the public may be just as good.

Piggybacking on an earlier study, Arthur J. Reynolds, an associate professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Judy Temple, an economist at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, did a cost- benefit analysis of the federally financed Chicago Child-Parent Center.

Mr. Reynolds and his colleagues have tracked 980 children who entered the program in the early 1980s over 15 years and compared their progress against a group of 550 children with similar demographic characteristics who did not participate in the program. (“Preschool Study Finds Positive Effects For Poor Children,” May 16, 2001.)

What the researchers are now suggesting is that the 18-month program, costing $6,730 per child, is likely to generate an average return of $47,759 for every participant from the time he or she leaves the preschool program until age 21. Most of that projected payoff is due to the higher salaries that program graduates are likely to earn as a result of completing more years of schooling, according to the researchers.

What’s more, the study concludes, the public could benefit more directly in the form of the higher tax revenues generated by those earnings.

According to the researchers’ projected estimates, those higher tax revenues come to an average of $7,000 more for every participant compared with nonparticipants. And another $5,000 to $6,000 more per participant is likely to come to the public coffers through the money schools save by providing fewer remedial services to the preschool graduates.

The criminal-justice system also racks up savings, the researchers suggest, because the study found that fewer of the program participants—16 percent, compared with 25 percent for nonparticipants—had been arrested by age 18.

Mr. Reynolds said federal and state policymakers eyeing proposals to fine-tune or expand the federal Head Start program, Title I preschool services, or state-run preschool alternatives should take note of the findings. Financed with Title I programs, the Chicago Child-Parent Center program offers services similar to Head Start.

“The bottom line for me,” Mr. Reynolds added, “is that the concept is the same.”

A summary of the study can be viewed online at /cbaexecsum4.html.

—Debra Viadero

A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2001 edition of Education Week


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