top of page

Early Education Pays Economic Dividends: Vote Accordingly

Updated: May 23

North Carolina’s early childhood education system is hurting. The advocacy group NC Child reports 44 percent of the state’s families living in a “child care desert,” with more than three times as many children as openings in centers.  A third of the state’s providers may close within three months because they lack funds to pay wages competitive enough to attract workers. By June 2024—next week—the pandemic funding that has temporarily stabilized childcare runs out. Child care advocates are asking state legislators for $300 million to keep centers afloat and affordable. 

They asked last year, too, for the same amount. To no avail. A report from the Century Foundation also predicts child care center closures —1,178 in North Carolina, affecting 155,539 children.

Wait. What’s the return on investments in early education? Turns out, it’s high. Quality child care means lower crime rates, fewer poor people going to prison, fewer unemployed, and more, higher-paying jobs. Benefits reverberate for generations to come. 

During the Trump administration, cuts in outreach and enrollment reduced the number of children covered by health insurance. Food and housing insecurity for children also rose, due to cuts in SNAP benefits and housing assistance. And, an article in Education Week recently detailed a Heritage Foundation conservative policy agenda that includes how a second Trump administration might use the federal government to promote private school choice and parents’ rights, which will make it harder for public schools to serve poor children.

Lack of quality childcare hurts families and the economy. This pickle is ironic when we remember that North Carolina practically pioneered early childhood education nationwide in 1993, under former Gov. Jim Hunt’s Smart Start. Though Smart Start’s still a player, its current network of 65 local partnerships in 2024 is not enough.

Nobel-prize-winning economist James Heckman studies investments in early education. He and his colleagues report a 13 percent return on investment for comprehensive, high-quality, birth-to-five early education. Researchers analyzed life outcomes in health, crime, income, IQ, schooling, and the increase in mothers’ incomes when childcare enables their re-entry into the workforce.

Bottom line: Early years matter. From birth to age 5, brains develop fast. A baby's ability to learn is “unparalleled,” in Heckman’s words. “Safe, nurturing, enriching environments strengthen early brain development, while stressful or unstable environments can harm it. When children attend high-quality ECE (early childhood education) during these important years, they benefit from enhanced cognitive and social-emotional development. Even though evidence for long-term effects of ECE on child development is mixed, some studies show that participating in high-quality ECE yields long-term advantages for individuals and for society, including higher educational attainment, better adult health, and less involvement in crime. 

High-quality centers with stimulating and developmentally-appropriate environments provide more than health and safety, they nurture “responsive” relationships with teachers. 

All young children can benefit from high-quality ECE, but it especially helps children from low income families, children with disabilities served in inclusive classrooms, and dual language learners.  

This November, vote for candidates who care enough about children to keep early childhood education in North Carolina fully funded. This will strengthen not only North Carolina’s families, but also its economy. 

Wouldn’t it be great to say we take care of all of our kids because they are the future?

Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Greensboro News & Record and the Hendersonville Times-News before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, an anthology of literary short stories that probe Americans' complicated relationship to firearms. (University of New Mexico Press, 2017.)

5 views0 comments


bottom of page