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UMaine Economist Says Early Education Funding a Wise Investment

early education

A University of Maine economist advises Mainers seeking to make shrewd investments with their tax dollars to put them toward high-quality early childhood education.

In his report “Path to a Better Future: The Fiscal Payoff of Investment in Early Childhood Development in Maine,” UMaine economic professor Philip Trostel says providing a first-rate preschool education for one low-income child saves taxpayers an average of $99,200 during the course of that child’s life in Maine.

“It is ironic that the typical argument against devoting more resources to early childhood development is its costs, since it would actually reduce total government spending,” Trostel says.

Nonprofit and businesses leaders who funded the report, which was delivered last week to the Legislature, will hold a news conference Wednesday, May 29 at 9 a.m. in the Welcome Center of the Statehouse to request financial support for early learning.

Trostel says the report’s findings are bipartisan.

“It is bipartisan because investment in early childhood education makes sense in multiple dimensions,” he says. “If all one cares about is providing the best possible future for our children and grandchildren, investment in early childhood education makes sense. If one is concerned about reducing social injustice and creating greater equality, investment in early care and education makes sense. If one wants a safer world, investment in early childhood education makes sense. If one wishes to promote economic prosperity through greater education attainment and innovation, investment in early childhood development makes sense. Even if one only wants to reduce the size of government and taxes, investment in early childhood education makes sense.”

Considerable research has shown the years before children start kindergarten are the most crucial in terms of brain development and habits. Youth with access to premium early education are more likely to graduate on time, be employed, earn higher wages and avoid criminal behavior, says Trostel.

Thus, he says, providing high-quality developmental experiences for the youngest children in the state is an effective approach for guaranteeing long-term economic success.

Numerous fiscal benefits would result from providing low-income children from birth to age 4 with year-round, full-time high-quality services, Trostel says. More parents would be able to work and pay taxes; fewer interventions would be needed in the K-12 years, thus cutting taxpayer funding by $25,700 per child; and special education and juvenile corrections spending would also drop.

It’s more expensive to continue the current education funding model in Maine. Inadequate early childhood education spending results in costly and often times failed remedial efforts, says Trostel.

“Although some children who start behind catch up, and some who start down a promising path veer off, to a large extent life outcomes are determined by the trajectories created before children start school,” he says.

The report was funded by Eleanor Baker and Thomas Saturley, Bangor Savings Bank, The Betterment Fund, The Bingham Program, Jim and Jennifer Clair, Sam L. Cohen Foundation, Jeffrey and Marjorie Geiger, Gorham Savings Bank, The John T. Gorman Foundation, Hancock Lumber, The Maine Community Foundation, MMG Insurance, Susan and Jackson Parker, John and Sandy Peters, Paul Silsby, Meredith Strang Burgess, University of Maine, Unum, and WBRC Architects/Engineers.

Trostel’s report and a summary are available at melig.org.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

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