Preschool pays off, but paying for all wastes money, economist says


As Seattle gears up to start its “preschool for all” program this fall, offering subsidized preschool on a sliding scale to Seattle families, a Nobel Prize-winning economist says yes, preschool is valuable, but subsidizing families who can afford it is a waste of money.

University of Chicago economics professor James Heckman presented research at an education writers gathering this week that shows early childhood education programs pay for themselves in increased productivity and lower costs to society, The Seattle Times reports.

“Kids who go to excellent preschools generally make more money, he said, and are less likely to end up in jail, or be unemployed,” the Times reported. But “the highest returns on investment come from helping disadvantaged kids attend high-quality programs, he said, not from subsidizing all families regardless of need.”

In November, voters approved the Seattle Preschool Program, a four-year demonstration program to provide subsidized preschool, funded via a $58 million property tax. So a family of four earning up to $70,000 a year would receive free preschool. Families with much higher incomes would still get a subsidy. (See the sliding scale table here and click on “revised table” in the first section.)

The city says it wants to encourage a mix of family incomes with the subsidies because it can boost academic results and ensure that schools are integrated. Read the full story and get updates on the Seattle Preschool Program, along with detailed background information.

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