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Investment in pre-K will save Florida billions of dollars


June 27, 2002

A state investment in quality pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds will save Florida between $2 billion and $3 billion per each wave of 4-year-olds, according to a nationally recognized expert in education economics.

Steve Barnett, Ph.D., director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, says the estimate takes into account money saved on special education, welfare and prisons, as well as what the successful preschool students eventually pay in taxes.

“Half (53 percent) of Florida’s elementary school children are low income,” said Barnett, a professor of education economics and public policy. “Given that, this investment is well worth the cost – and it will pay off for taxpayers again and again. It’s a one-time investment that generates additional savings each year these children are in school.”

And while lower-income children benefit most from quality pre-K programs, Barnett said the returns apply to all children.

Mayor Alex Penelas, who was in town Thursday to attend the state Revenue Estimating Conference meeting, said the estimate proves what he has been saying all along: “We cannot afford NOT to invest in our children.”

“Offering quality pre-K education to four year olds will save far more than it costs. The question is how long does Florida want to pay the price of failure instead of investing in success?” Penelas said. “It is shameful that we are willing to spend nearly a billion dollars a year so that children can repeat grades but we won’t spend the money to send them to school ready to learn in the first place.”

Barnett said his savings estimate of $2-$3 billion is “very conservative” and the real benefits could run as high as $6 billion. But he warns that only high-quality programs – which may seem initially expensive – can produce these kinds of savings.

Penelas is spearheading a ballot initiative that would make high-quality pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds available at no cost to parents who want it. His Committee for Pre-K already has secured the more than half-million required signatures, and continues to collect and certify more. In May, Florida’s Attorney General approved the petition language and urged the Supreme Court to issue approval for its inclusion on the November ballot. Proponents now await the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Barnett bases his estimate on two studies of public school preschool programs, the Chicago Child Parent Center study and the Perry Preschool study. In both studies, benefits come from increased earnings and taxes, decreased school costs, decreased crime and delinquency, and decreased reliance on public assistance.

“To truly weigh the merits of providing universal, voluntary pre-K services to 4-year-olds, we must consider the costs against the savings that are likely to be realized,” said Penelas. “The decision to provide pre-K to 4-year-olds is a one-time investment – but the benefits accrue over a child’s lifetime,” said Penelas.

It is estimated that 20 percent-30 percent of Florida children currently enter school not ready to learn – a problem that produces expensive consequences to the state. Studies suggest that providing an enriched pre-K experience to 4-year-olds will save a share of the money Florida is currently spending in these areas:

  • Remedial education. Florida currently spends $1.6 billion to support children who are falling behind or who require exceptional student education. Based on University of Florida College of Medicine studies of children who participated in pre-K programs, the need for remediation and ESE referrals will significantly drop with broad participation in quality pre-K programs for 4-year-olds.
  • Retention. Florida has an 8.5-percent retention rate, according to the Florida Department of Education. Based on per-pupil spending estimates, retention costs the state between $836 and $938 a year. That cost is expected to skyrocket in the near future, as children are required to meet higher standards to achieve promotion to the next grade. If children enter kindergarten ready to learn and prepared to succeed, Florida’s retention rate will decline.
  • Developmental delays. There is much research to suggest that developmental delays caught early are less expensive to correct or improve. A University of Florida study found that among pre-K students there was a 21-percent decrease in students receiving services in speech and language ESE programs.
  • Juvenile delinquency. Children who fall behind in the early grades are much more likely to break the law and become delinquent as they get older. Florida currently spends $637 million on juvenile delinquency through its Department of Juvenile Justice in addition to local government expenditures. Over the long term, Florida is likely to save a portion of these expenditures by sending young children to school ready to learn and succeed.

Georgia’s experience suggest that quality pre-K for 4-year-olds also will improve early education experiences for children ages 0-3.

In Georgia, the quality of the child-care industry has improved in general as a side effect of the statewide pre-K program. The emphasis on quality has trickled down to classes serving children age 0-3, since state funding provides for equipment and materials for the 4-year-old classrooms as well as salaries for certified teachers. This is key, because research shows that the ages of 0-3 are a critical time, where the right kind of stimulation and nurturing can dramatically affect a child’s development and prospects for future success.

Additional Press Contacts:

Cathy Schroeder or Michelle Ubben
For the Pre-K Committee
850-222-1996

Lynn Norman for Mayor Penelas
305-375-1545