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Money spent on early education services saves tax dollars
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 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two stories about data on Harvard University’s website regarding research into early childhood development.

             Cathy Estes has always told anyone who would listen that money spent on early education today will save tax dollars tomorrow.

            And now, once again, she has the numbers to back her up.

            Estes, coordinator at the Sunflower Diversified Services Early Education Center (EEC), explained that Harvard University has compiled up-to-date findings about early childhood development on its website.

            One of these findings is that for every dollar spent today on early learning programs, the range of return is $4 to $9. Previous studies showed the range at between $1 and $7.

            Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child compiled the data.

            “Three rigorous, long-term studies demonstrated how the return on investment can be staggering,” Estes said. “Participants in the studies, who were followed into adulthood, had higher employment earnings resulting in a stronger tax base.

            “And just as important,” Estes continued, “returns to the public include reduced costs for special education, crime and government programs. Every dollar spent reaps rewards for all of us.”

            EEC services are designed for infants and toddlers up to age 3 and are free to families. Estes noted that developmental problems are often overcome, while others are alleviated.

            “So much can be corrected before age 3,” Estes said. “Yes, some children may still need special education but many others will not. Children can get their best start with early intervention programs.

            “It has been proven over and over again that huge developmental benefits can occur during these early years – more so than any other time of life,” she added. “When a developmental delay cannot be completely overcome, we can always make the situation better.”

            For example, EEC professionals teach children and families a number of coping skills, and demonstrate alternative ways of doing things with adaptive equipment and other tools.

            “This support follows people through adulthood,” Estes noted. “Children will grow to be productive members of society, with little or no taxpayer support. They can see a future and be proud of who they are and what they have accomplished.”

            Estes realizes EEC services might appear expensive to the taxpayer in the short-term. But it takes money to offer the best programs for the long-term, she said.

            “We hire professionals who have college degrees and are licensed and certified,” Estes explained. “Three EEC staff members have master’s degrees and one has a doctorate. Others have bachelor’s degrees. And there is always continuing education. This doesn’t come cheap.”

            If, for whatever reason, the EEC cannot hire a staff professional, it must contract with an individual. There is no waiting list at the EEC; every child who needs help gets it.

            “We can’t just sit here and say, ‘well, we can’t find a physical therapist so we will do without,’” she explained. “When we have to contract out, it is much more expensive.”

            In addition, the EEC needs enough staff members to accommodate visits to families’ homes. The frequency of visits is up to the parents, who best understand the child’s circumstances.

            EEC services are provided in private homes or other natural settings, such as daycare centers.

            “When taxpayers discover the importance of early intervention, they are willing to support our local families,” Estes said. “We want to share this message and the Harvard data is a tremendous resource.”

            The EEC, 1312 Patton, is part of the tiny-k infant/toddler program in Kansas. The non-profit agency’s service area includes Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. Although it is funded in part by tax revenue, it relies on private donations for its free-to-families services.