Senior Fellow, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota
Prior to working in early childhood education, I was the Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. I tell people, I used to worry about banks, now I worry about babies.
I got involved in education completely by accident. I was working at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and I had lunch with an early education advocate. This was fifteen years ago now. I told him, “I have a problem with your argument. You’re basically making a moral argument that early ed is the right thing to do.” And I was concerned that this reasoning wasn’t going to work because policymakers have limited dollars and many competing priorities. I said, “I think you’d have a better chance, politically, if you made an economic argument.” And this trickled back to the Governor and the Mayor. They called me and asked me to help make the economic argument.
I began my research and what we discovered was that the return for investing in early childhood education is actually enormous – 18%! We calculated and recalculated, and we now realize that this is likely a conservative estimate. It’s very clear that if you invest in children early, especially those that are most vulnerable, they can start school healthy and ready to learn and they will succeed.
I’ve argued for almost two decades now that the best economic development you can do in this country, is to invest in young children. I call them my High Return Children. If they succeed, there are not only benefits to the children themselves, but enormous social benefits; our communities are so much healthier, our schools are so much better, and our workforce is so much stronger. Early childhood development is economic development.
I try to stay apolitical about this, to say that it’s just about the numbers and the return. But once you get into the field, once you see the impact of these investments, of early childhood scholarships, it’s hard not to feel affected. It really is hard.