Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

I am back on my soapbox advocating for fully funded Universal Pre-K education for all families that want it, including transportation. More than 35,000 Minnesota preschoolers still do not have access to Pre-K, and the economic impact is devastating. We must be careful that Pre-K is not mandatory to honor the wishes of those parents who say, “I only have my child at home for five years, and I want to take advantage of every moment we have together.” But for others, Pre-K opportunity is an economic and social necessity.

In our previous visits about closing the opportunity gap, we cited, “If we are going to break the hellish cycle of poverty, we need to make significant systemic changes. It seems unconscionable that our politicians who tout the value of education on the campaign trail balk at funding Pre-K because it is too costly. We have to decide if the richest nation in the world can afford to educate its people. Should we in Minnesota, with a budget surplus, continue to deny poor children the benefits of early childhood education because it’s too costly? Let me repeat, we will never close the achievement gap until we are willing to close the opportunity gap, and that costs money. But investing in early childhood education now will reap a generous return down the road.” The National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs found that high-quality early childhood programs can yield a $4 to $9 return per $1 invested. A 2009 study of Perry Preschool, a high-quality program for 3–5-year-olds developed in Michigan in the 1960s, estimated a return to society of between $7 and $12 for each $1 invested. Recent studies showed that the return on investment in early childhood education is as high as 13 to one.

You can google study after study touting the benefits of investing in Pre-K education, so why is it such a tough sell? My story, and I’m sticking to it, is that we need to message the benefits differently than we have been doing. The axiom of persuasion states, “People do things for their reasons, not your reasons.” We need to give businesses their reasons for supporting investments in Pre-K and College funding. (Let me interject an idea form an earlier Leaders Forum article entitled “Let’s Honor All Intelligence,” that Technical College is College, and the student studying to be an auto mechanic or electrician is an absolute genius, deserving of our respect.)

So let’s get back to the task at hand, messaging. To sell the idea of free education, we need to sell its financial benefits. Business leaders tell us that one of the biggest deterrents to economic growth is the lack of an educated workforce. Letters to the editor and op-ed pieces lament the same. What is missing from the articles is a discussion that stuff costs money, including a college education. However, it all makes sense if we look at the economic benefits of an educated workforce, including technical courses, Universal Pre-K, and free college. Some states already provide it.

We have thousands of bright and talented young people who are qualified and motivated to go to college but can’t afford it. If we provided free education, we would be astonished at how quickly and abundantly we would reap a return. Businesses would have the qualified workforce that they need to expand, and expanded businesses lead to a higher-performing economy. Instead of living in poverty, the educated person would earn $50,000 to $60,000 or more, putting them in a higher tax bracket. The tax revenue it took to educate that person would be re-generated many times. With increased income, people would buy cars and homes and go on vacations, expanding our economy at a pleasantly alarming rate.

One article alone doesn’t scratch the surface of the benefits of funding education. Still, if this article entices you to begin to tout its advantages in a different way – in terms that make sense to those who see education through a different lens -–we will make significant progress in our quest for educational opportunity for all. When the ship rises, we all rise with it.

Denny Smith is a former teacher and coach, a speaker and an author dedicated to making our schools and communities safe and welcoming for all people. He is the author of Emotional Intelligence 101: How to Carve a Duck and Coaches Make the Difference and is currently working on Teachers Make the Difference, which will be available in 2023.

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