Early Education Pays Off

Early Education Pays Off

Of the many educational programs that have been funded by all levels of government and the private sector, none have had as many positive, continuing impacts on participants as expenditures on early childhood education. There is a huge body of research proving the point.

Between 1962 and 1967, a group of 3- and 4-year-old children began preschool at Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Michigan in a program still referred to as the Perry Preschool Project. (highscope.org/perry-preschool-project) The children studied were from low-income families and had other risk factors associated with potentially poor academic performance. The purpose of the study was to gauge the effect of early childhood education on the children and their communities. Research psychologist David Weikart compared the students’ experiences and outcomes over time to those of children from the same neighborhoods who had not attended preschool. Comparisons between these two groups of children who are now adults continue to the present day more than a half-century later.

The results continue to be striking. Over time, the original participants:

• Had fewer teenage pregnancies.

• Were more likely to have graduated from high school.

• Were more likely to hold a job and have higher earnings. 

• Committed fewer crimes.

• Owned their own home and car. 

Research over more than a half century shows that participants in effective early childhood education:

• Have more stable marriages.

• Have a greater likelihood of providing their children with a more stable two-parent home in which to grow up. 

• Have children slightly later in life.

• Remain stably married by the time their children turned 18.

Research conducted in the last two decades found that children of the Perry Project participants:

• Spend at least three times the amount of time with stably married parents before age 18. Boys of the male Perry participants spend 15 times the amount of time with stably married parents.

• Are more educated, healthy, gainfully employed citizens who are productive members of society.

• Excel in various life domains today despite growing up in neighborhoods that are similar or worse off than neighborhoods of the control group.

There are dozens of pieces of research findings that reach the same conclusion. Last week the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce presented at their statewide conference the results of a study done by professional researchers from the Prenatal-to 3 Policy Impact Center at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College: “Articulating the Value of Early Childhood Investment in Virginia.” The report summary is that “the science is clear—safe, stable, stimulating, and nurturing environments with limited exposure to adversity promote healthy brain and body developments in the earliest years, supporting a lifetime of wellbeing and educational success.” Virginia spent a record $309 million on early education programs in FY23. Most of that money was from federal temporary pandemic funding that will expire in the coming year.

With the overwhelming evidence of the success of early childhood education programs, it is critically important that Virginia legislators find a way to continue a high level of funding for early childhood education. We know it will have a positive payoff in the short and long range.