Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has written the Congressionally-mandated Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction with a simple message. Invest in high-quality early education. It echoes the message Heckman conveyed last year in a 12-page letter to the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Reform created by President Obama.
“The quality of our workforce is not what it should be and it is not improving. Budget deficits are created in large part by deficits in the skills of our workforce,” Heckman wrote in his recent three-page letter to the “Super Committee,” which is nearing the end of its tenure.
“Deficits in skills in early childhood are perpetuated and magnified throughout life. Current policies fail to properly recognize the life cycle dynamics of skill formation. The United States invests relatively little at the starting point – in early childhood development – and as a consequence pays dearly for this neglect at every point thereafter.
“Our country will be unable to compete in the global economy if it does not address the increasing numbers of children who are not prepared for success in school, career and life.”
Here are the guiding principles that, Heckman wrote, the committee should follow:
- Early childhood development deserves more resources, not less.
- Investments in quality early childhood development more than pay for themselves.
- The federal government can and should incentivize the development of comprehensive state systems that focus on quality care for the children most at risk.
- Expand upon proven models.
- Funding for an improved Head Start and Early Head Start, as well as the Child Care and Development Block Grant, is essential and should be used to spur public/private collaboration on program replication.
- Collect, align and analyze data from cradle to college and career.
- Engage the private sector.
“There is no question that we can and should cut the federal deficit,” Heckman wrote. “The question is whether we have the courage to think differently, to shed our biases, to stop doing things that do not work and to invest in things that do.”