Call it common sense, call it common knowledge, but now it has a number attached: $40,000. Or $100,000.
The first number is the amount the state of Michigan saves on every child who arrives at kindergarten "ready to learn," that is, with an adequate preschool or similar early-childhood experience. The six-figure sum is what the city of Detroit saves. (The difference is due to "lifetime cost differences in education, social service and criminal justice expenditures" in Detroit, the study says.)
So claim the authors of a study done at the behest of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, conducted by St. Paul, Minn.-based Wilder Research. The foundation is using those numbers to give dimension to calls for more preschool and early-childhood funding in Michigan schools. It estimates a $55.3 million savings for every 1 percent gain in school readiness statewide, and a $7.2 million savings for Detroit. A 1 percent gain in school readiness among Detroit’s estimated 7,200 kindergarteners would save $7.2 million.
"People have heard (the advantages of early-childhood education) so often, they don't listen anymore," said Richard Chase, lead researcher on the project. "This study makes it simple. We're calling it the school readiness dividend."
Gov. Rick Snyder has made early childhood a priority, establishing the Office of Great Start last year, and adding third-grade reading proficiency to his "dashboard" of success measures in the state.
“Recognizing education starts at birth, investing in birth to 5-year-old children at risk is a first step to ensure they hit the kindergarten door ready to learn. This is critical to meet the demands of Michigan’s future economy” said Phillip Fisher, vice chair of the foundation board, via a press release.
Children who have been exposed to early-childhood enrichment programs, particularly at-risk low-income children, arrive at school better prepared for early success, which carries through their critical elementary years. Advocates see it as a critical area for preparing the future work force for the increased intellectual demands of the new economy.
Chase acknowledges the benefits of having children learn simple educational concepts before they begin their formal education is nothing new, but "now we have a clear metric," he said. "Now we have a dollar figure."
Staff Writer Nancy Nall Derringer has been a writer, editor and teacher in Metro Detroit for seven years, and was a co-founder and editor of GrossePointeToday.com, an early experiment in hyperlocal journalism. Before that, she worked for 20 years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she won numerous state and national awards for her work as a columnist for The News-Sentinel.