What is DC’s Return on Investment in Early Care and Education?

Recently I had the chance to attend the Washington Post’s Children and Families Summit, which featured U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among other policy leaders and focused on children and families. You can watch video from the event here. The theme (and twitter hashtag) for the event was “investing in youth” (#investinginyouth), and it made me reflect on DC’s investments in our children’s future.

Secretary Duncan spoke about the value of investing in early education, saying that high quality Pre-K will help our schools get out of the “catch-up business.” Catch-up starts when children arrive in kindergarten not ready to learn, continues when they reach third grade without achieving reading proficiency and snowballs until students are not ready to graduate high school on time and are at high risk of dropping out. Secretary Duncan called early childhood education “the best investment we can make...from an economic standpoint and a human potential standpoint.”

Evidence from DC suggests that our city’s increased investment in Pre-K has begun to pay off as children progress in their education. On the 2012 DC CAS, third grade students from low-income families who attended Pre-K were 4 percentage points more proficient in reading, and 4.7 percentage points more proficient in math than their peers. The Pre-K advantage was particularly high for Hispanic students in reading: they realized an 8 percentage point difference in proficiency between Pre-K attendees and their peers.

But to judge DC’s full return on investment in early care and education, we need a better picture of how the city allocates its budget for young children. Where and how does DC invest in young children to put them on the path to reach their full potential? How do different programs for children and families collaborate and share crucial data? Are these programs supported by federal or local funds? How can we tie these budgetary investments to outcomes for children in DC’s neighborhoods?

DC Action is asking these questions and looking for answers through our upcoming budget advocacy and DC KIDS COUNT work. DC government agencies are finalizing their budgets for next year at this moment, and Mayor Gray will release his proposed fiscal year 2014 budget to the City Council at the end of March. What investments in children will you look for in this year’s DC budget?

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