Good news, ugly truth on pre-k ‘savings’

Michigan will save $39,000 in public costs for every high-risk child in pre-kindergarten — $100,000 in Detroit — according to a Fisher Foundation report. These “investment” claims should  be taken with a grain of salt, writes Sara Mead, who links to Lisa Guernsey’s analysis of the claim that preschool saves $10 for every $1 spent.

Very high-quality programs — which are not the norm — can improve outcomes for high-risk kids, Mead writes. But only 3 percent of savings from improved school readiness flow to K-12 schools, the report estimates.

. . . the really flashy high-value savings come from benefits far down the road, such as reduced crime and prison costs, (that) are hard to capture to pay for pre-k. And when early childhood advocates cite such diffuse and distant benefits to claim that the “value of investing in school readiness for just one child at risk of academic failure in Detroit, Michigan, is…about $100,000,” I worry that the perception such claims are oversold may actually increase skepticism about the value of pre-k investments, rather than building support.

It’s more persuasive to cite immediate savings to the school system, Mead argues. The Fisher researchers estimate pre-k saves $2,374 per child in reduced special education and grade retention costs, $3,376 in Detroit.  Michigan spends about $4,453 per child in pre-k. If that’s true, pre-k isn’t free but it’s awfully cheap.

SF plans college accounts for kindergarteners

Despite a $483 million budget deficit, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to start a city-funded college savings account for kindergarteners in public school. From the Chronicle:

The deposits would be small – $50 to start, $100 for lower-income children — but the hope is that they will pay huge dividends, teaching students about saving and budgeting while forging the conviction that a college education is within reach.

The plan is to include all public-school kindergarteners by the third year, with funding help from corporations and nonprofits. Parents will be offered matching funds to encourage them to save their own money.

A study by the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis found children with modest college savings are seven times more likely to go to college. Of course, parents who set aside money for college are likely to be different from parents who don’t. It’s not clear that unearned savings will produce the same result.