As excited as I am about a potential sea change in transportation funding, this is probably just as important:
In the presidential debates, [Barack Obama] twice described early childhood education] as among his highest priorities, and his choice for secretary of education, Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools superintendent, is a strong advocate for it.
And the $10 billion Mr. Obama has pledged for early childhood education would amount to the largest new federal initiative for young children since Head Start began in 1965. Now, Head Start is a $7 billion federal program serving about 900,000 preschoolers…
Driving the movement is research by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, James J. Heckman, and others showing that each dollar devoted to the nurturing of young children can eliminate the need for far greater government spending on remedial education, teenage pregnancy and prisons.
That’s one way of putting Heckman’s findings. Another is that you simpy cannot generate the results for adolescent and adult remedial investments that you can for early childhood programs, no matter how much money you spend. We focus on inequality in this country quite a bit, which is fine — it has grown significantly in recent years. The big reason that inequality is so bad, however, is that the country has also seen a substantial rise in immobility. Poverty and wealth are persistent, and the crucial gap between rich and poor students opens before they ever set foot in a school.
As nice as this program sounds, it will likely prove thankless to Obama. We won’t see the benefits until well after his administration has concluded, and this won’t innoculate him against charges of fiscal profligacy or softness on crime, even though it should. We need to get back to making good, long-term investment decisions, and early childhood education is one of the best available.