There is increased interest in California and other states in providing universal access to publicly funded high-quality preschool education for one or two years prior to kindergarten entry. In considering such a program, policymakers and the public focus on the potential benefits from a universal preschool program, as well as the estimated costs. This study aims to inform such deliberations by conducting an analysis of the economic returns from investing in preschool education in the state of California. The benefit-cost analysis undertaken in this study indicates that there can be positive returns for California society from investing in a one-year high-quality universal preschool program. The authors’ baseline estimate, which is arguably conservative, is that every dollar invested by the public sector beyond current spending will generate $2.62 in returns. And this estimate does not account for an array of other benefits not captured in their analysis because of data limitations. Those other potential benefits include lower intangible losses from crime and child abuse and neglect averted, reduced reliance on public welfare programs, improved labor market outcomes for parents of preschoolers, improved health and well-being of preschool participants, and the intergenerational transmission of favorable benefits. Broader economic and noneconomic benefits may accrue in other areas as well, including labor force recruitment and participation rates, workforce performance, economic growth, international competitiveness, and the distribution of economic and social well-being.
The research described in this report was sponsored by The David and
Lucile Packard Foundation and was performed under the auspices of RAND Labor and Population.
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