Early childhood education pays off for kids and economy, study says

It’s widely accepted that early childhood education has long-term academic benefits for children.

But a national nonprofit organization released a study Tuesday that says high-quality early care and education is a serious player in the Kansas economy, too.

The study says every dollar invested in early care and education generates $1.68 in short-term spending on local goods and services.

“You don’t have to wait for 20 years for that economic benefit to Kansas,” said Susan Gates, national director of America’s Edge, which released the study at the Hiersteiner Child Development Center on the Johnson County Community College campus.

America’s Edge is a nonprofit organization of business leaders that advocates for targeted investments in children.

“The news from this study is it shows that early learning is a viable economic sector in the state of Kansas,” Gates said. “What we did is not only determine what happens to every dollar invested today in generating economic activity, but how does it compare to other sectors? We found that it performs as well and in fact better than most — manufacturing, transportation and construction.

“So when policymakers are figuring out how can we continue to strengthen our economy today and how can we build that foundation for future economic security, early learning is a great answer.”

Gates and local business leaders used the study to call on lawmakers to not cut programs that affect children age 5 and younger.

Tyler Nottberg, CEO of U.S. Engineering, said Kansas’ early care and education industry employs about 8,000 people and generates more than $500 million annually.

“The state of Kansas invests $141 million on state-funded early learning programs, which in turn generate a total of about $237 million in economic activity, just from our state’s investment in early learning,” he said. “The type of loss that Kansas’ businesses would suffer in the event that these dollars are cut is something that I think we certainly would consider to be catastrophic. As we move forward, the business community needs to stay focused on this issue.”

Gates said the long-term benefits of high-quality early care and education are up to $16 for every $1 of investment.

“Children who participate in high-quality early learning programs do better in math and reading, have higher graduation rates, enter the workforce with higher skill levels and earn more as adults,” said Neal Sharma, CEO of Digital Evolution.

The issue, Gates said, matters to everyone, regardless of whether they have children.

“Seventy percent of children under the age of 6 have their only or both parents in the workforce and so they need to have a place to go, which is important to businesses,” Gates said. “So to have early learning in place in communities is good for parents, it’s good for businesses and we know it’s good for kids.”