In the 12 years I have lived in Colorado, I’ve seen growing and widespread support for quality early childhood education (ECE) programs. In fact, there is as much a consensus on the value of these programs as on any other education policy intervention.
The combination of data from long-term studies, with early brain development findings, makes a strong case. Support from economists, like Nobel Prize winner Jim Heckman, and from Federal Reserve bank research makes ECE more accepted as a business proposition, with positive investment potential.
Of course, at the same time, given the state of Colorado’s difficulty in raising public funds due to TABOR, despite this enthusiasm for ECE, the number of funded ECE slots for low-income families has been underwhelming (although the federal Race to the Top funding is helping). Meanwhile, Denver tapped into its own public tax funding for a pre-school initiative, which voters re-approved last year.
Is there a case against ECE programs? Last spring, the Donnell-Kay Foundation brought in Grover (Russ) Whitehurst for their Hot Lunch series. Whitehurst was the former head of the Institute for Education Science (IES) at US ED, and is now a researcher with the Brookings Institution, and was reading specialist in his prior academic life. Whitehurst is the most prominent skeptic about ECE, suggesting that the research is not nearly as convincing as many believe (that is, that the long-term studies involve small numbers and inadequate comparison groups).
So, new research is coming out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which somewhat surprisingly started a significant investment in ECE programs a decade ago. This research is positive about long-term academic improvements for long-income students from quality ECE.
It may be that expansion of quality ECE in Colorado will require even more creative funding ideas. Recent “Pay for Success” ideas might be a way to harness more private investment into this public purpose.