Pre-K Benefits All of Us, Not Just the Kids

August 11, 2014

Steve Wray & Jamie Haddon, The Intelligencer

Can investing in high-quality early learning programs save money for Bucks County taxpayers?


It’s a largely undisputed fact that attending high-quality pre-k sets a child up for success in school and life — particularly children who face academic obstacles due to poverty and other factors beyond their control. A report released last month by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, demonstrates the clear link between socioeconomic factors and a child’s readiness to start kindergarten.


These “at risk” kids are the ones who can benefit the most from high-quality early learning programs — but this same group often does not have access due to the high cost of quality pre-k, which can often be as high as a family’s rent or mortgage payments.


Ensuring the right start for these children through quality early learning programs increases their chances of finishing high school, attending college and remaining consistently employed with higher earnings down the road.

Who wouldn’t be in favor of supporting programs that lead to graduation instead of dropout and jobs instead of jail? That part is common sense.


What might not be as immediately obvious is that not only do children and families benefit from investment in quality pre-k, but all taxpayers benefit as well.


According to a recent economic analysis by ReadyNation, an organization made up of business leaders throughout the country, if we were to fund pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the commonwealth, that investment would generate $800 million in additional goods and services and create nearly 28,000 jobs statewide.


That’s because every dollar invested in pre-k generates $1.79 in spending and economic activity. And for every 10 jobs created in the Pennsylvania early care and education sector, three jobs are created outside that sector. The return on investment in high-quality pre-k clearly outpaces that of many other economic sectors when it comes to generating the sale of local goods and services.


Further, the same analysis determined that, in our region alone, this type of investment would generate $609 million in new spending, including $269 million outside the early education sector. That equals approximately 9,500 new jobs in southeastern Pennsylvania alone.


It’s clear that pre-k should be a key component of our economic growth strategy. As this report points out, “With limited funds available to help businesses and our economy stay on track, few investments make as much sense for Pennsylvania businesses’ balance sheets as do investments in high-quality early education.”


However, reaping these economic benefits would require a significant increase in the state’s investments in high-quality pre-k, which are currently lagging behind many other states that compete with Pennsylvania for jobs and industry. In fact, the latest State of Preschool Yearbook from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) shows that Pennsylvania dropped to 30th out of 41 states that provide pre-k access for 4-year-olds (down from 28th a year earlier).


According to research done by the issue campaign Pre-k for PA, a nonpartisan initiative advocating for access to high-quality pre-k for every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania, currently only about one in six of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefit from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. That means about 244,000 children throughout the commonwealth are left behind, without access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k.


We know pre-k works. It works for our kids and it works for our economy. Our challenge is to make these programs accessible to all families.


As we approach the November election, we hope that every candidate for Pennsylvania governor and legislative seats will recognize the urgent need to make investment in high-quality pre-k a priority. According to a public opinion poll commissioned by Pre-K for PA, two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters support expanding access, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.


This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It’s an economic issue.