Voices of Alaska: A low risk, high return investment

  • By Eric Wohlforth
  • Saturday, March 14, 2015 3:41pm
  • Opinion

We in Alaska accept that the state will invest millions and billions of dollars to develop resources for pay-off down the road. Consider the long-awaited gas pipeline, consider state incentives for oil exploration and new production.

A far more certain investment for future return is investment in early childhood education. Yet the House of Representatives has zeroed out about $3.2 million in funding for Best Beginnings, Parents as Teachers, and the Alaska Pre-K Program. Everyone understands all too well the budget crunch we’re in as a state. All of our spending should be scrutinized. It is early days to a final legislative decision. But the early education issue is too important to delay an objection. We must not sacrifice something with such obvious returns.

Study after study, confirmed by on-the-ground evidence in our own state, offer overwhelming evidence that early childhood efforts do work. Parents as Teachers, Best Beginnings, and high quality pre-K (a far cry from baby-sitting) prepare young children to succeed in school. Success in school leads to success in life.

We are way behind where we need to be in education at all levels. A major reason is our failure to develop the foundations for learning in our children:

— Fewer than half the children entering kindergarten in Alaska are prepared in all the ways experts say is important for success in school. It is no wonder our teachers struggle to get kids on track. Test scores languish when kids enter school so far behind.

— Alaska ranks 44th in the country for 4th grade reading levels and 51st in post-secondary attainment. How children fare on 4th grade reading tests is directly related to how ready they were to start school.

— Just 37.4% of our young adults in 2013 were enrolled in postsecondary education or had a degree.

— Alaska businesses frequently complain about the lack of local talent for jobs. That means Alaskans are missing opportunities for high paying jobs in leading sectors.

An overwhelming body of science and research tells us that investments in early childhood — such as in-home visits; exposure to plenty of high quality, age-appropriate books; lots of quality parent engagement; and high quality pre-K — reap concrete returns from cost savings and greater economic productivity.

Investments in early childhood save money in the schools by reducing the need for remediation, special education, and holding children back. Investments in early childhood save costs in the criminal justice system and welfare.

Investments in early childhood yield revenue in the form of greater productivity. With an educated and skilled workforce, Alaska will attract new business.

States in far worse financial shape than Alaska understand this. Across the country — from small-government Oklahoma to recession-devastated Michigan — states have found that investment in statewide voluntary pre-Kindergarten programs produce results in educational success, job development, and crime reduction.

Investments in early childhood should be measured against other investment opportunities. We make these decisions on four core criteria: need, amount of money involved, prospects for return on the investment, and risk. Spending on early childhood makes more sense than most. The need is huge, the amount is relatively small, the prospects for return are very high, and the risk of doing it is non-existent.

Early childhood is one of the lowest-risk, highest-yield investments we can make. The legislature should restore the $3.2 million funding for Best Beginnings, Parents as Teachers, and Alaska Pre-K back into the budget.

Eric Wohlforth was Commissioner of Revenue under Governor William A. Egan, 1970-1972, and Chair of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, 1997 to 1999 and 2002 to 2003. He is an attorney in Anchorage.

More in Opinion

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C. in this file photo. (File)
Opinion: The Alaskans with the power to defend America’s democracy

It’s well past time to publicly refute Trump’s lie

File
Opinion: Here’s what I expect of lawmakers in a post-Roe America

I urge lawmakers to codify abortion rights at the state and federal levels.

File
Opinion: Confusion over ranked choice voting persists

Voter confusion over ballot procedures will continue

Former Gov. Bill Walker, right, and his running mate former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Heidi Drygas, speak to Juneauites gathered for a fundraiser at a private home in Juneau on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Voices of the Peninsula: A vote for Walker/Drygas is a vote for Alaskans

It’s easy to forget some of the many lost lawsuits, devastating budget cuts and general incompetence that defines Mike Dunleavy’s term as governor

This photo shows a return envelop for 2022 special primary. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Voices of the Peninsula: Learn how to access your ballot

The recent special primary election was the first time the state conducted an all mail-in ballot election

The Storyknife Writers Retreat in the summer of 2021 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Storyknife: Invest in women writers, read the rewards

Storyknife is committed to providing opportunities to a diversity of writers

Residents line the Sterling Highway in front of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office to oppose Pebble Mine on Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: No more delays — finalize protections for Bristol Bay

How many times do we have to say NO to a bad project that would harm Alaskans?

Peter Asmus (Photo provided)
Why Alaska is leading the nation on energy innovation

Alaska is a unique vantage point upon which to review the world’s current energy conundrum

Most Read