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New Research Acknowledges the Benefits of Pre-K

child care

COVID-19 blog series

As the country has considered how it will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, child care has remained a central topic of conversation, sitting at the intersection of education, the economy, workforce, and family dynamics. Simply, the pandemic acutely highlighted that child care is foundational to all four, and as such, policy makers are wrestling with how to address it. 

A study recently released from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Chicago, and University of California Berkeley economists confirms the long-term individual and societal benefits of prekindergarten. Students in Boston who were admitted, via lottery, to public prekindergarten were more likely to graduate high school (70% versus 64% of non-lottery winners), take the SAT, and enroll in college. They were also less likely to be suspended from school or interact with the justice system. Bottom line: academic, social, and emotional progress were positively affected. Despite this set of good news, the study also supports the mixed findings of similar previous studies: there was no evidence that child care had any effect on test scores. Previous studies have returned either positive or, as this one, no evidence on test scores. Few, if any, returned negative test score outcomes.  

Taken altogether, that’s a pretty good set of findings, and one that clearly returns more than initially invested. But perhaps most importantly, this study confirms that there are other, equally important positive outcomes that result from an investment in child care aside from test scores. After all, using common sense, if a student graduates high school, goes to college, and stays out of the justice system—does it really matter what their test scores were? 

How does this work? It’s simple: children’s brains develop more rapidly in the first five years than at any stage in their life. In fact, ICS’ own review of research found that the building blocks of executive function and self-regulation are formed in this time frame, making child care critical. These skills are critical to gaining and retaining employment, managing household finances, caring for children later in adult life, according to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. 

Metaphorically, child care is to children as compound interest is to an initial investment: the earlier the investment, the greater return over the long run. 

But that’s not all: as the pandemic has taught us, we know that child care is not only beneficial to the enrolled child, it also has a two-generation effect as well. The US Chamber of Commerce agrees, asserting that “child care is a two-generation workforce issue.” Further, in a letter to President Biden, it listed the issue as its third 2021 priority, only behind COVID-19 vaccinations and K-12 reopening. An official from the US Chamber of Commerce’s summed it up neatly, “parents are making lifetime career decisions based on temporary child care challenges. That is no better for businesses and the economy than it is for children and their families.” 

Policy makers and influencers are beginning to take note. David Merage, head of the Merage Foundation, has started a campaign, CareForAllChildren, which advocates for the importance of accessible, affordable, quality child care in America. He recently published an op-ed on CNN outlining his thoughts. 

Some communities have even begun to make an investment into the idea. With the help of the Institute for Child Success, the city of Tempe, Arizona utilized Pay for Success financing to fund an expansion of 4k. It “increased the number of full-day, full-year seats for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds by adding classrooms in schools already rated as high-quality 4- and 5-star providers.” The total investment was around $3 million.    

With funding being made available, child care being at the nexus of COVID-19 recovery, a wealth of diverse support, and a temporary Child Care Tax Credit being made available, now is the time to mobilize and push for a major change in the way we approach child care. 

John Concklin

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