If one could invest today in North Carolina’s Smart Start and More At Four early childhood programs like buying shares in the stock market, it would make for a very comfortable retirement.
Although shares in Smart Start and More At Four might not be on the NY stock exchange anytime soon, state policymakers do have the opportunity to invest in what is likely the best long-term economic development tool available.
Timothy Bartik, one of the nation’s preeminent scholars  on state and local economic development policy, has used findings from the recent Duke University study  on the impact of Smart Start and More At Four on achievement gains in third-grade test scores to estimate the long-term return on investment.
Bartik estimates  that present value of a dollar invested by the state in Smart Start or More At Four is $8.79. Studies in several other states have come to a similar conclusion  on high economic returns to investing in early childhood programs. Few other investments can claim to match that level of return.
In Bartiks words:
The preliminary findings from the Duke study provide further evidence that state-funded early childhood programs can work at a large scale. These programs can lead to changes in elementary school test scores for an entire county that are large enough to be… economically important.