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When it comes to kids in poverty, can preschool make a difference?

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

Providing a child in poverty with quality early education is expensive, but so is letting that child rely on government assistance as an adult. The question is: which cost would society rather pay?

Larry Schweinhart says society should pay the upfront costs associated with early education and reap the benefits later.

Schweinhart is president of the High Scope Foundation, an education-based nonprofit organization in Ypsilanti, MI. State of Opportunity's Jennifer Guerra recently sat down with him to learn more about the benefits of early education programs.

Schweinhart points to data from a 40-year longitudinal study called the High Scope Perry Preschool project to make his case for increased support for early education programs. State of Opportunity has written about the project before, most recently in Dustin Dwyer'sinterview with economist James Heckman.

The project found that for every $1 spent on children at Perry preschool, there was at least a $7 return on investment. These returns ranged from higher high school graduation rates to higher incomes as adults, and a significant decrease in criminal activity.

In order for early education programs to be as effective as Perry preschool, Schweinhart says a program must have engaged parents, student evaluations, active learning, and good teachers.

The last criterion is the most costly. Two-thirds of the costs associated with Perry, for example, goes to pay teachers' salaries. The High Scope Perry Preschool model had a cost of $11,000 (adjusted for 2012 dollars), more than three-times the cost of the state-funded Great Start Readiness Program.

But Schweinhart says the cost is worth it:

"You can do a cheaper program, but then you don’t get the return on investment."

Listen to Schweinhart's full interview with State of Opportunity here.

- Jordan Medina, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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