Opportunities for long-term gain by the youngest students bring immediate returns for local economies.
A study quoted in a recent Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) release showed that child care and early childhood education programs provide a high degree of immediate economic stimulus.
The 2004 national study by Cornell University ranked the states in terms of the amount of impact through public investment in early childhood education. That impact was represented as a multiplier effect of the number of dollars circulated within the state from the dollars put into programs. Pennsylvania came out at the very top of the list.
"We know that quality early childhood education builds an important foundation for preparing our future workforce," PDE Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said. "Because these early childhood programs are employing local staff and often making local purchases of goods and services, many other sectors in their communities see immediate economic gain from this public investment."
According to the study, every dollar of public funds used to pay employees and buy materials and services circulates more than $2.10 in the state economy.
In Warren County, that means more than $3 million in local economic activity, according to a PDE release. The county received public sector allocations of $1.2 million for Child Care Works, $127,045 for Keystone STARS, and $126,400 for Pre-K Counts in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, according to PDE.
Statewide, the activity level was $1.8 billion from about $845 million in state funding.
"The ripple effects of these investments are now proven and obviously enormous," Zahorchak said.
"Access to reliable early childhood education services is a key part of our community's infrastructure," Secretary of Public Welfare Estelle Richman said. "In this time of economic uncertainty, this report provides additional evidence that early childhood education benefits everyone."
The study compared multipliers for early childhood education with multipliers of other social infrastructure sectors including job training, education, hospitals, and transit.
It found child care "very similar" to other social infrastructure. According to the report, while the others are considered important targets of economic development policy, child care and early childhood education are not.
According to the report, "child care multipliers also are similar to our benchmark retail and tourism sectors."
"Child care is a good economic development investment," the report concluded. "This, in addition to the sector's importance as social infrastructure supporting parent workers and human development of the future workforce, makes it a worthy target for economic development policy."
It is also a good investment for the futures of students.
"The long-term benefits are that the children are more prepared academically and socially and studies show that participation in quality early learning programs significantly increases their chance of success in school and then later on in life," Beth Fantaskey, project director for the Warren Forest Early Care and Education Coalition, said. "Students who have access to quality early learning programs are less likely to require special education services... and can overcome risk factors to succeed in school and in life."
According to Fantaskey, there are 14 early learning facilities in Warren County, including pre-schools, traditional day cares, and Head Start, which has several branches in Warren and Forest counties.