Universal preschool education makes economic sense
A new study concludes that economic benefits from universal preschool education far outweigh the cost.
A new Hawaii study joins previous research concluding that universal preschool education would be expensive but economical in the long run. The Legislature should begin expanding the school system to include 4-year-olds with the expectation that the federal government will increase assistance for the expense.
A study created by the Legislature recommended in December that lawmakers add $10.5 million to the current $8.3 million spent on preschool programs during the first year, reaching $170.4 million annually when it becomes fully operational in a decade. Public sources would fund 20 percent of the cost.
The study, conducted by Aloha United Way and the University of Hawaii, points to research showing that children who attend preschool are less likely to drop out of high school, become teenage parents or turn to crime. The findings and recommendation for affordable, quality preschool for all children in the state is consistent with the advice of the legislative task force.
The proposal also reflects the conclusions reached last year in a study by the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute. In Hawaii and other states, a universal preschool program for children ages 3 and 4 would reap benefits equal to the cost in 10 years, figuring an initial annual cost for a phased-in program of $176 million.
The study, authored by Washington College economics professor Robert G. Lynch, predicts that the program would begin to pay for itself in budget benefits alone after 20 years. By 2050 the benefits will have totaled $3.6 billion while having cost only $405 million, a ratio of nine to one. Benefits of $769 million will have come from savings to individuals due to crime reduction alone, Lynch estimates.
At least some of the expense could come from the federal government, if the promises by presidential candidates are fulfilled. Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton has proposed an expenditure of $10 billion annually for universal preschool for all 4-year-olds; Lynch estimates that a fully phased-in national program for 3- and 4-year-olds would cost more than triple that amount.
While encouraging but not insisting upon pre-kindergarten programs, Sen. Barack Obama promises to increase funding of Head Start, the preschool program for children of low-income families, and quadruple Early Head Start for low-income families' children 3 years old or younger. Sen. John McCain also promises Head Start reform.
Doug Holtz-Eakin, McCain's chief economic advisor, has said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee believes that too many children "start school at a disadvantage and slip further and further behind with every passing year."
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