There’s good news from the pre-K education front this week, news that proves Minnesota’s actions toward greater early education are right on target.
A report by University of Minnesota professors Arthur Reynolds and Judy Temple, published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, offers a report in which they observe more then 1,500 low-income children who attended a Chicago school-based preschool program in 1985-86 and followed them until they were 24 years old.
The study shows that children involved in preschool programs:
* Had higher rates of high school completion and four-year college attendance. They also had more years of education.
* Had significantly lower rates of felony arrest and incarceration. They also were less likely to be found guilty of a crime both overall and for a felony.
* Were more likely to have a stable employment history or to have attended college by age 24. In addition to lower rates of public aid receipt, the group had higher rates of full-time employment.
* Had higher rates of health insurance coverage and had lower rates of out-of-home placement in the child welfare system. They were less likely to receive disability assistance as young adults and had a higher rate of private insurance.
* Were less likely to have one or more depressive symptoms.
The 24-year-long study is as thorough as any other studies, but Duane Benson, Executive Director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, said it mirrors much of what is already known about pre-kindergarten education and early childhood development.
“If a student can’t read by third grade, then they’re likely to drop out by ninth grade,” he said. “If they can’t ready by kindergarten, then they probably won’t ready by third grade and we play catch-up.
“It’s language, language, language,” he said. “It’s tied to psychological well-being and the ability to communicate, and that gives you confidence. Confidence in kindergarten seems to be a tendency that grows rather than diminishes. Success builds on success.”
The Minnesota Early Learning Foundation is the creation of area businesses such as Best Buy, Ecolab, Cargill and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. They want to both help children thrive as well as create a larger supply of well-educated workers. They cite a Minnesota Private Colleges Council report that says while the number of high school graduates in the U.S. will increase by 4 percent between 2003 and 2013, the number of Minnesota graduates will decrease by 10.3 percent during that same period. The number of college graduates retiring from the state’s workforce will grow from 9,000 per year in 2007 to 25,000 per year in 2017.
The Foundation, founded in 2005, is looking for cost-effective ways to provide early childhood development. Using only a bit of sarcasm, Benson said “I know what will fix it. Throw money at it.”
The 2007 Legislature passed and the governor signed $42.9 million to increase early childhood funding; $20 million for school readiness programs; and $40.2 million to phase in full-day services in Head Start programs or licensed child care.
There are more programs to help improve the quality of care physical environment at child care centers. There are programs to cut costs so child care is available for all children. And there are programs in the works that will rate child care facilities to help parents find the best care in their area.
As this study demonstrates, early childhood development is crucial to the future of our society. Learning to read at an early age is imperative. People who have had early childhood education are less likely to end up in jail or commit a felony. Students who succeed in school at a young age tend to succeed through college, which provides greater salaries and buying power, and better health care coverage which leads to better health and a medical community less burdened by preventable injuries.
Now, it’s time for Minnesota state policy to follow the data. Early investments pay off.