Category Archives: Budget

Having a Better Balance Sheet on Children’s Data

Events of the last few weeks, and their coverage in the media, are a case-study of the power of indicators to compel attention and action.  We’ve watched the stock market numbers, and the credit ratings; we’ve dissected their day-to-day movements, and discussed the reasons behind their rise and fall.

Some might argue the extent to which these data mirror the actual “health” of the economy (let alone the “well-being” of the nation), but because they are part of a steady stream of data we feel they demand attention, explanation.  They assume a “reality”—some might say too much reality—to the point where we feel, that if we see the numbers going in the “right” direction, then indeed things are getting better.  Or, if they’re headed the “wrong” way, we had better do something about it—and fast!

Now, imagine if other sorts of numbers attracted similar attention and action.  What if the daily ticker, in addition to stock prices, put out the latest high school dropout rates, the latest teen pregnancy rates, the latest data on how often parents read to their young children, the latest data on how many youth are volunteering in their communities, the number of young children ready for school, the number of children receiving routine preventive health care?  What kinds of discussions would we have then?  Certainly the picture of our national well-being would be much fuller, nuanced with both heartening as well as troubling trends.

Of course, we have all these data, and more (see But generally they’re buried far into the back pages of the media, if they appear at all.  And they are released, unfortunately, too infrequently, out-of-sync with real time, with too little coordination, and with too little context.

We are what we measure; and what gets measured, gets done.  We’ve just seen this played out in plain view.  We should be taking just as seriously the measures we already have that quantify what we value in our children, in our families, in our communities. The good news is, we have the infrastructure in place; we just need to elevate these data to the prominence and currency we give to the financial figures—those are important, but incomplete as a picture of our nation’s strengths and challenges.

-David Murphey
Senior Research Scientist




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Filed under Budget, Children, Indicators

Economic Benefits of Early Childhood Education

Last Friday, the federal government was minutes away from shutting down over disagreements about the scope of spending reductions for the current fiscal year 2011 budget.  Legislators ultimately agreed to $37.8 billion in cuts from the federal budget through the end of September.  This budget deal follows a series of other negotiated cuts to the current year’s federal budget, and precedes an upcoming debate on the 2012 budget that is sure to be equally contentious.  As policy makers continue to deliberate over federal investments and priorities, tough choices are ahead.

Sometimes policy decisions must be made in an information vacuum, however, in the case of early childhood education, the evidence is clear.  Nonpartisan and reliable research from a variety of sources have produced an ever-growing body of evidence that high-quality early childhood interventions such as home visiting, Head Start, and Smart Start, promote the physical, social and emotional development of children from infancy through adulthood.  In addition, there is growing economic analysis that documents the favorable return on investment for specific high-quality interventions.   A February article in USA Today reported new findings of economic benefit associated with the Child-Parent Centers, as discovered through a federally-funded evaluation study.   The researchers have documented impressive economic benefits:  each dollar spent on Child-Parent Centers returns between $4 and $11 in societal savings over the children’s lifetime as a result of increased earnings and tax revenues (stemming from  improvements in school and work performance), and averted costs associated with reductions in arrests, depression, substance abuse and sickness.  The lead author of the study says that this is up to an 18 percent annual rate of return.

And consider Head Start, where multiple studies have found measurable and long-lasting gains for several subgroups of children, particularly those at high risk for school failure.  A broad-based consortium of leading researchers recently noted that Head Start has been proven to increase the odds for children by ensuring that they are “healthier, more academically accomplished, more likely to be employed, commit fewer crimes, and contribute more to society.”

It is true that tough choices are ahead, but these decisions do not need to be made in the dark. Policymakers can draw on early childhood research to inform their policy decisions and investments.  One resource is Child Trends’ easy-to-use database on programs that work – or don’t – to enhance children’s development.  It offers a series of one-page charts, such as this one featuring effective social programs with positive cost-benefit impacts.  In the realm of smart investments in America’s future, there are a growing number of early childhood programs that are proven to benefit children and society

Carol Emig, President, Child Trends

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Filed under Budget, Children, Early Childhood Education, Head Start, Home Visiting, Smart Start