Build Back Better Early Childhood Provisions Rest on CEHD Research

The Build Back Better spending package passed by the House of Representatives early Nov. 19 funds free preschool and other provisions that add up to “the largest investment in child care in the nation’s history.” The economic rationale for that investment is based on a body of research from Director James J. Heckman and colleagues, including recent work by coauthors associated with CEHD.

Build Back Better establishes free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds who need it. According to the framework briefing released by the White House on Oct. 28, 2021, it will  “enable states to expand access to free preschool for more than 6 million children per year and increase the quality of preschool for many more children already enrolled.”

The framework notes that this expansion will lead to “lifelong educational and economic benefits for children and parents, released by the White House Oct. 28. As evidence, it cites “Quantifying the Life-Cycle Benefits of an Influential Early-Childhood Program,” work by Jorge Luis García, James J. Heckman, Duncan Ermini Leaf and María José Prados (2020) that combines experimental data and nonexperimental measures to aggregate the benefits of an influential high-quality early-childhood program, Carolina Abecedarian Project, as measured by outcomes for participants tracked well into later adulthood.

The framework called the pre-K program “a transformational investment in America’s future economic competitiveness,” citing findings from the “The Dynastic Benefits of Early Childhood Education,” a working paper from Jorge Luis García, Frederik H. Bennhoff, Duncan Ermini Leaf, and James J. Heckman (2021) analyzing new long-term follow-up data from the influential HighScope Perry Preschool Project.

Earlier research estimated that every $1 invested in high-quality early childhood care and education can yield returns of $3 to $7 over time. This new paper accounts for additional benefits between and across generations, as both the siblings and children of those who participated in the preschool program all achieve better life outcomes in education, employment, and other domains. Adding in these benefits, new estimates show that  the return to every $1 spent on quality preschool is as high as $9 to $13.

The findings are an outgrowth of CEHD’s ongoing research on early childhood interventions and outcomes and intergenerational mobility. These citations underscore how the work we are doing guides and informs policy at the highest level. We’re proud that the center’s research and collaborators are making an impact.