Researchers: Early Education Funding offers a 13.7% Annual Return on Investment

In the past, most of my artwork was translating research studies and book chapters into visual sketchnotes. Even though I’ve mostly moved away from that in my art, when I see the results of a particularly important study published, I like lending my illustration to it. By highlighting a few key points and reposting on social media, I hope I can help the information in that study reach people far beyond just research journal readers.

Every $1 spent on early childhood programs returns an average of $7.30 to taxpayers. Source: 2020. The American Bar Foundation and the University of Chicago. Lead researchers: J. Heckman & J. Garcia.

This is one of those cases. It’s not new information that taxpayer money spent on early childhood education has a significant return on investment. We’ve known that kids who are engaged in a Headstart-type program have better readiness for school, achieve at higher rates, and are more likely to graduate high school. What’s unique about this study is that researchers, led by J. García, J. Heckman,  and tracked kids all the way into midlife – to roughly age 35. By studying Headstart participants – and a group of nonparticipants – over decades, researchers were able to calculate the long-term financial gains of investment in early childhood education.

Click Here for A PDF of the Full Journal Article

Abstract:  This paper quantifies and aggregates the multiple lifetime benefits of an influential high-quality early-childhood program with outcomes measured through midlife. Guided by economic theory, we supplement experimental data with nonexperimental data to forecast the life-cycle benefits and costs of the program. Our point estimate of the internal rate of return is 13.7%, with an associated benefit/cost ratio of 7.3. We account for model estimation and forecasting error and present estimates from extensive sensitivity analyses. This paper is a template for synthesizing experimental and nonexperimental data using economic theory to estimate the long-run life-cycle benefits of social programs.

Researchers: Jorge Luis García, Clemson University; James J. Heckman, American Bar Foundation and University of Chicago;  and 

University of Southern California.

Download this Early Childhood Education PDF art:

Speaking the language of dollars and cents can offer important data, and it’s something taxpayers should know in order to make an informed choice. On the other hand, everything in me tells me that the way we treat children, particularly children in impoverished families, should have less to do to do with return on investment, and far more about compassion, dignity, and equity. At the end of the day, we cannot put a price on the value of compassionate care at any phase of life.

I think one thing this study may not quantify is how Headstart programs provide some positive childhood experiences (PCEs) for kids, and those significant childhood experiences reduce allostatic load and, as kids grow, increase a person’s capacity to build and use emotional support systems, which supports physical and emotional health overall lifespan.

[Original Instagram Caption: ]

I am VERY excited about this research study that looked at long term outcomes of #headstart type programs. It’s not entirely new data- we’ve known for years that everyone wins when we invest resources in kids living below the poverty line- but the timing makes me hopeful this data reaches policymakers at every level.

THIS is why the #defundthepolice is a conversation we all need to have, across political lines. Militarized law enforcement tasked to deal with issues of mental health, poverty, and despair will continue to fail at a continued staggering cost to taxpayers and human life/dignity. We have alternatives that reduce human suffering while reducing costs to taxpayers: parenting mentors, home visiting nurses, early childhood programs, afterschool programs, tutoring programs, job training, as well as harm reduction policies and free rehab for individuals who do use substances to self medicate suffering.

Image Description for Screen Readers:

First slide:
Every one dollar spent on early childhood programs… [Hand-drawn image of a one-dollar bill cartoon style]

Second slide:
returns an average of $7.30 to taxpayers [hand-drawn image of six, 1 dollar bills drawn in a cartoon style and one ripped portion of a dollar representing the $.30]

Third slide:
researchers determined a 13.7% annual return on taxpayer investment, with returns seen in decreases and cost of healthcare, criminal justice, and unemployment, and increased tax revenue via increases in income.

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