A $75 billion investment in early childhood education would pay for itself in just 10 years through reduced incarceration costs according to a new report from a group of law enforcers who support proposals for nationwide pre-school access.
The report, titled “I’m The Guy You Pay Later,” notes that the country spends $75 billion each year to incarcerate over two million people. Reducing the prison population by 10 percent could therefore balance out the projected 10-year cost of a universal preschool program. Summarizing research on early childhood development and the outcomes from a pair of preschool programs in New Jersey and Chicago, the report argues that greater engagement with young kids would mean fewer behavioral issues, better educational attainment, and therefore less crime. The organization, called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, represents “more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, attorneys general and other law enforcement leaders and violence survivors.”
Earlier this summer, a group of retired military leaders put forth a similar report in support of universal pre-school. National security officials argue that the future personnel needs of the military aren’t being well served by the current system in which a child’s access to consistent, positive stimuli in early developmental stages is dependent mostly on her family’s finances.
Military and police officer interest in preschool spending may seem novel, but the groups’ arguments are natural offshoots of the more commonly cited evidence in favor of investing in early childhood education. Research indicates that every dollar invested in early childhood development programs yields $7 in future savings for the economy as a whole, aside from the $11 return-on-investment for the individual child over the course of her lifetime. The broader positive returns on pre-k spending mostly appear in the form of higher earnings potential and greater economic productivity, which helps explain why a coalition of 300 business leaders have joined in the call for universal preschool.