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February 24, 2014

Business leaders see early education as economic investment

Opponents question effectiveness, role of government.

(Continued)

“It’s one of the best investments we can make in this state,” Stuart said. “… The problem is that it’s long-term investment. You need legislators willing to do the right thing today, in terms of providing the resources to children in poverty, so in the future we have stronger communities, a stronger workforce, and less of a gap between those who have nothing and those who have a lot.”

That thinking resonates elsewhere. Over past two years Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi and Montana have enacted new or expanded state-funded preschool programs.

They’ve gotten support from organizations such as ReadyNation, a national group of business leaders pushing for preschool programs for low-income children. They argue that high-quality, early education reduces the number of poor children in costly special education programs and reduces the need for remediation in later grades.

Derek Redelman, education vice president for the state Chamber, said the business community has been spurred on by research showing the economic benefits of early childhood education. Some of that has come from economists at the Federal Reserve, whose former chairman, Ben Bernanke, has called preschool for poor children “crucial” for reducing poverty and boosting economic growth.

The fiscal aspect of the program is critical, as state revenues in recent months have fallen below predictions. Those lower revenues caused Pence to cut funding to higher education and to order state agencies to revert some of their budgeted dollars back to the state’s general fund.

But cost isn’t the only issue.

Social conservatives in the Senate question the effectiveness of government-funded preschool. They note studies showing the academic impact of the federally funded Head Start program fades by third grade. And they question the veracity of other studies that show long-term benefits of preschool.

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