Economist Arthur Rolnick — who estimated a 16% return on investment for high-quality early education for children from low-income families – was in town recently as the guest of the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children. BTWIC has convened a working group of early education providers, academics and businesspeople to explore the possibility of establishing a sustainable fund for early education in Massachusetts. Rolnick, the former research director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, raised $20 million from Minnesota business leaders to create a scholarship fund for early education in St. Paul that he hopes to replicate statewide. He is also trying to create a permanent endowment for early education in Minnesota.
“Businesses throughout Massachusetts have given generously to K-12 schools to support a range of essential and enrichment programs. The efforts have helped many schools and many children, but the broad impact is difficult to track,” Rolnick and BTWIC President Mary Reed wrote in the Boston Business Journal. “We suggest an alternative that can assist schools, but also fuel economic development. Invest private and public money where you’ll get the greatest and most traceable return on investment: a statewide Early Education Permanent Fund to provide each child in need with high-quality early childhood education programs.”
Rolnick, speaking at a BTWIC event at the State House, delivered a message similar to his keynote at a Thrive in 5 conference in Boston a year ago. In his remarks last week, Rolnick cited the economic evidence on the impact of high-quality early education that he and his colleague Rob Grunewald calculated in 2003, showing a 16% return on investment greater than 6% average annual rate of return from the stock market in the post-World War II era. While economist James Heckman, a Nobel Prize winner, estimates a somewhat lower rate of return, he, too, finds the return outpaces the stock market and has also become a strong advocate for high-quality early education. Rolnick also noted the work on the science of young children’s brain development of Dr. Jack Shonkoff, the pediatrician who heads the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard.
“Given the overwhelming evidence and given the challenge by Shonkoff, there’s this policy gap,” Rolnick said. “Whatever you propose, you better start early.”
Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose, lead Senate sponsor of An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency; Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett); Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education; and Andre Mayer, senior vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, all made welcoming remarks at the State House event.
Rolnick also met with BTWIC’s permanent fund task force and attended a business reception during his Boston visit.