AUGUSTA – Cost/benefit analyses are often reserved for the boardroom, but on Thursday, they’ll be used in the nursery.

That’s the day the Governor’s Economic Summit of Early Childhood convenes in Rockport, an opportunity to drum up support for the education and care of the state’s youngest citizens.

“The fact is, we deal with so many issues at the crisis level … when they become tragedies,” said Gov. John Baldacci. “If we’d been able to put one-tenth of the effort into the front end of things … into the preventative piece, it would help us so much more in terms of dollars and lives.”

The two-day conference will examine issues that contribute to the success and well-being of babies and young children, and the social and economic benefits they return. Nationally, several studies have tracked prekindergarten children through a variety of programs and measured the long-term results.

“Recently, economic analyses have helped policymakers distinguish prekindergarten as a sound public investment strategy that yields impressive fiscal returns, reduces spending on crime and remedial and special education, generates increased tax revenues and improves short- and long-term outcomes for children, families and communities,” wrote Steve Bartlett, a former Texas congressman, who sits on an advisory board of Pre-K Now, a national group that advocates for the voluntary education of preschoolers. His statement appears on the introduction to a report that analyzed three different programs and their impact in their states’ schools, economic growth and work force productivity.

For instance, the percentage of children enrolled in special education went down 41 percent, 26 percent and 48 percent in the three programs. Reliance on welfare went down 17 and 50 percent in two of the programs (it wasn’t measured in the third). Increased lifetime earnings from the children who benefited from the early childhood programs went up by an average of $33,000.

Nobel prize winner James Heckman, an expert in statistics, and Art Rolnick, a member of the Federal Reserve Board in Minneapolis, did their own study and concluded a 16 to 18 percent return for money directed toward preschool programs, making it the best expenditure to promote economic development.

George Kaiser, a self-made billionaire and principal owner of the Kaiser-Francis Oil Co., doesn’t need to see the numbers. He’s already convinced of the success of early childhood education and has initiated programs in his home state of Oklahoma.

Kaiser is one of the keynote speakers planned for the summit at the Samoset Resort. Public and private investment in kids from birth is the way to assure that children are given a fair chance to be ready for school, stay out of trouble and enter the work force as fulfilled and productive members of society, he noted.

“And equally important, we have a moral obligation to make that happen,” he said.

Educare, the program in Tulsa, is based on a model from Chicago’s lowest Census track, which has been operating for eight years. It targets babies and their families, working with trained teachers and support agencies in a voluntary, year-round commitment.

“We need to change conventional wisdom about public responsibility for education,” said Kaiser, noting there are only 104 Early Head Start slots for 10,000 poor babies and toddlers in Tulsa County. “So the public sector is filling, at best, 1 percent of the need.”

Baldacci said the benefits to children from early education can be tremendous, but there are other advantages as well, including increased peace of mind for working parents.

“If employees come to work confident in their child’s care, then you have highly motivated, productive employees,” he said.

He said he hopes the summit will result in policymakers, service providers and business leaders joining together with families to launch initiatives for Maine. In particular, he’s hoping for strong support – both financially and in policy-setting – from the state’s business sector.

“We don’t have the resources to do this on our own, and frankly, we shouldn’t have to,” he said. “We need their help and support … it’s in their interests, too.”

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