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Quality Early Childhood Education Impacts High School Graduation Rates

Thousands of Nebraska high school seniors will graduate in the next couple of weeks and celebrate the milestone with family and friends. Graduating high school is a significant achievement that impacts the well-being of our state. High school graduates have higher incomes than those who drop out of school, are less likely to receive public assistance and are less likely to go to jail. This makes a vital impact on our state’s economy and budget.

In Nebraska, we’re fortunate that our graduation rate is among the highest in the nation—nearly 89%. With such high graduation rates, you may wonder if there’s room for improvement. The answer is yes, and the best way to do this is to make sure that children at risk of failing in school begin kindergarten on par with their peers. High-quality early education environments and experiences can improve children’s cognitive ability and promote the behavioral and emotional traits essential for classroom learning.

An overwhelming body of economic research tells us that early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make. High-quality early childhood learning opportunities can maintain, and even increase, Nebraska’s graduation rates with greater economic efficiency than other investments. Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman explains:

“As a society, we cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, nor can we wait until they reach school age—a time when it may be too late to intervene. Since learning is a dynamic process, it is most effective when it begins at a young age and continues through adulthood. The returns to human capital are greatest for the young for two reasons: skill begets skill, and younger persons have a longer horizon over which to recoup the fruits of their investments … At current levels of investment, cost-effective returns are highest for the young.”

What does this mean? The drop-out problem cannot be addressed at the high school or middle school levels exclusively. By then it’s too late for some students. High-quality early learning opportunities are the most cost-efficient way to maintain and improve Nebraska’s graduation rates.

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