“Invest in prevention-not remediation.” That was the primary message of Dr. James Heckman’s lecture that took place in Henderson, Kentucky on Tuesday July 23, 2013. The Nobel Laureate and Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago has been a part of several studies surrounding early childhood development and the relationship that early education has with the economy. Dr. Heckman is also considered an expert in the economics of human development.

Dr. Heckman’s research of high-quality programs for low income families “shows significant positive returns on investment in reduced costs for special education and early juvenile and adult services.” In his lecture, he discussed the long term effects of quality early childhood education as well as the costliness of later remediation that is typically ineffective if there is not a good foundation to build on. Dr. Heckman covered a range of factors that affect the success of children including family life, single parent households, parent-child interaction, and disadvantaged environments.

His work with economists, psychologists, statisticians and neuroscientists shows that when an investment is made in the earliest years, the return on investment is great. Investments in early childhood education are investments in family values. Early childhood education that involves the child’s parent(s) helps to improve effective communication within the parent-child interaction, which can set the tone for the long-term relationship. Family supports like home visitation programs for parents in tandem with quality early childhood education from birth to age five help children develop cognitive and character skills that drive success in education, career, and life.

According to Heckman the evidence is clear; investments in early childhood education can reduce deficits and strengthen the economy. He also discussed that early childhood education can increase high school graduation rates; a 5 percent increase in the male graduation rates could save an estimated $50 million in annual incarceration costs and crime-related expenditures. If those 5 percent went on to college, their average earnings would accrue an additional $37 million annually.

Recent cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program in Kentucky demonstrate the lack of importance placed on early childhood development by some state leaders. The state recently stopped accepting new applicants for the Child Care Assistance Program and the eligibility went from 150 percent to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The change in eligibility for families will cause an estimated 8,700 families to lose child care assistance per month. This means that many parents will not be able to work without affordable, quality child care and may turn to welfare. The cuts do not promote economic growth now, for the parents losing this subsidy, or in the long term with the loss of an opportunity for these children to receive early education.

“Early childhood education is an efficient and effective investment for economic and workforce development. The earlier the investment, the greater the return on investment.”