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Study: Early Learning Pays Off Down the Road

June 16, 2008

Aberdeen, SD – An economist might seem an unlikely champion of early childhood development. However, Art Rolnick, senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, says an investment in high quality, early learning is delivering a 16 percent annual return for the public. He has collected the research to show why South Dakota should rethink its system of education for younger children, especially those at risk.

Rolnick suggests a two-step approach that he says could result in solid, cash savings for the state: a pilot scholarship program, allowing children starting at age three to enroll in preschool programs, and prenatal healthcare professional mentors for families.

"We think that kind of program - where the providers are 'competing' for the scholarship kids, where they have to get the kids ready for school - can get extraordinary returns. The child would be more likely to succeed in school, with less need for special education, less retention; more likely to get a job and, long-term, stay off welfare. In the studies that we find, the crime rate goes down 50 percent if you look long-term."

Dr. Susan Randall, executive director of South Dakota Voices for Children, notes the research reinforces the work her group has been doing to engage South Dakota's business community in the early learning issue. She says more research on the topic is being conducted.

"It's a three-year pilot that's being researched by USD and has some funding investment from the governor as well as through United Way. We know there are several communities targeting preschool services to children from families that are low-income, and are not able to get access to pre-K without that kind of support from school districts."

Rolnick believes an investment in human capital is needed for the South Dakota economy to succeed and that it begins with early childhood development. He's participating in a public roundtable discussion at Aberdeen Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Federal Reserve Bank study. The event is free to the public and begins at 2:30 PM at the Ramkota Convention Center.

David Law/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - SD