Nebraskans have a national reputation for good fiscal stewardship. We understand that a state, business or household is unlikely to prosper unless it can balance fiscal restraint with a well-informed investment strategy. Long-term economic growth is the product of saving our fiscal resources for investments that offer realistic returns and a high degree of accountability for every dollar we commit. There are few uses of our public and private dollars that offer greater accountability and more substantial, persistent dividends than investments in high-quality early learning and developmental experiences for young children at risk.
Not all early childhood experiences are alike in their ability to prepare children to thrive in kindergarten and ensure that our public and private dollars are being used efficiently and with accountability. This is why, for the past decade, Nebraska legislators, educators, business executives, state agency leaders, law enforcement officials and others have embraced early childhood investments that promise to narrow the achievement gap before children arrive at their first day of school, while standing up to stringent criteria for efficiency and outcomes.
A responsible investment strategy depends on more than knowing where to commit our public and private dollars—it depends on knowing when to invest. Analysis conducted by Nobel Prize-winning economist James J. Heckman (University of Chicago) indicates that investments in the very earliest years of life, particularly those made prior to starting kindergarten, produce the greatest returns to society and individuals across a lifetime—as much as 7 to 10 percent per annuum.
Strategically timed, targeted investments in the cognitive and character development of Nebraska's youngest children offer ongoing, cumulative social and economic gains and can mitigate the burden of other, more costly systems—such as corrections—that cannot offer a comparable rate of return.