Investing in Kids: Early Childhood Programs and Local Economic Development

Investing in Kids: Early Childhood Programs and Local Economic Development

Investing in Kids: Early Childhood Programs and Local Economic Development

Investing in Kids: Early Childhood Programs and Local Economic Development


Early childhood programs, if designed correctly, pay big economic dividends down the road because they increase the skills of their participants. And since many of those participants will remain in the same state or local area as adults, the local economy benefits: more persons with better skills attract business, which provides more and better jobs for the local economy. Bartik measures ratios of local economic development benefits to costs for both early childhood education and business incentives. He shows that early childhood programs and the best-designed business incentives can provide local benefits that significantly exceed costs. Given this, states and municipalities would do well to adopt economic development strategies that balance high-quality business incentives with early childhood programs.


This book presents arguments for the following propositions: Local economic development strategies in the United States should include extensive investments in high-quality early childhood programs, such as prekindergarten (pre-K) education, child care, and parenting assistance. Economic development policies should also include reforms in business tax incentives. But economic development benefits—higher earnings per capita in the local community—can be better achieved if business incentives are complemented by early childhood programs. Economic development benefits can play an important role in motivating a grassroots movement for investing in our kids.

I first became involved with early childhood policy in May of 2005, when I was contacted by a vice president for the Committee for Economic Development (CED). ced is a national organization of business executives and university presidents that sponsors research and takes positions on policy issues. ced tends to take “centrist” positions.

As I was to discover later, CED’s work on early childhood issues was largely funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a large national foundation headquartered in Philadelphia. Pew had decided to get involved in promoting the greater availability of high-quality pre-K education in the fall of 2001. Pew soon moved into a national leadership role in promoting pre-K expansion. As David Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, says in his book The Sandbox Investment, “Ever since the Pew Charitable Trusts made preschool a priority, the foundation has largely masterminded the national early education agenda” (Kirp 2007, pp. 174–175). Pew has provided much of the funding for the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, and for the advocacy group Pre-K Now. After several years of focusing its efforts on pre-K education, Pew has expanded to encompass a broader set of early childhood programs.

According to Pew staff, political support for early childhood programs is enhanced by evidence that these programs provide business or economic benefits: “One very successful part of the early education . . .

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