Investing in Montana's Greatest Resource, Opinion Editorial by Heather O'Loughlin, MBPC Research Director, Montana Standard, November 12, 2104, Missoulian, November 10, 2014, Helena Independent Record, November 8.
"When it comes to prioritizing the investment of our state’s resources, 4- year-olds might seem like an odd place to start to some folks. But there is no question that providing our children with an early opportunity to thrive benefits both children and our communities.
Support for pre-kindergarten education has proven to be one of the best investments a state can make, with both immediate and long-term benefits for children, families, businesses and the state’s economy. As other states across the country have already found, every dollar spent on pre-K results in a $7 return.
Montana does not have to wait to realize these benefits to our economy. State funding for pre-K will strengthen Montana’s economy immediately in two ways – by helping working families and by creating good-paying jobs in childcare and early education.
Many Montana families can’t afford the high cost of childcare, and some parents have to give up their jobs as a result. Helping parents access pre-K programs will allow them to stay on the job or join the workforce for the first time, giving many families a financial boost. Businesses benefit from parents having access to affordable and reliable care for their children.
Pre-K funding would also give a boost to an important industry in Montana. Under the plan proposed by the governor and consistent with virtually all other states investing in pre-K, schools will be given the opportunity to partner with private day care providers to meet the demand for pre-K.
The benefits of pre-K follow children as they move on to grade school, and beyond. Because of the skills they learn in pre-K, children who attend pre-K enter kindergarten ready to learn. And these children are less likely to repeat grades and less likely to need special education. School districts save money when they don’t have to spend as much on costly remedial programs.
Years down the road, pre-K continues to generate a return on investment. Children with a high-quality pre-K experience also are more likely to graduate high school and go to college. That translates into a more skilled workforce for businesses, higher earnings for participants, and a stronger economy overall. All of this adds up to significant economic benefits for Montana if it funds pre-K. The state’s return on its investment is estimated to be as high as $113 million for each year Montana invests.
Children enrolled in pre-K are less likely to be arrested later in life. The cost saved by reducing crime – including spending less on policing and incarceration – is the biggest financial benefit of pre-K for states and taxpayers. That’s why pre-K has drawn support not only from business leaders – who recognize its economic benefits – but also from public safety officers nationwide.
Given the early boost that children who attend pre-K experience, it’s no surprise that 42 states are already investing in pre-K. While the monetary benefits for Montana are undeniable, the greatest benefit is to the children themselves. There’s no question our children are a smart investment. This legislative session, let’s give them every opportunity to thrive by investing in pre-K."
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.