Lori Sturdevant points out in her July 4th Star Tribune column how Minnesota “has been missing the biggest public investment opportunity – early education” and how Art Rolnick’s extensive studies as director of research at the Federal Reserve Board have made those investments measurable.

Just like investing in the stock market or tax increment financing, putting money into early childhood programs brings solid financial and social returns back into a community.

As a negative example, just look at states and nations that have not (failing schools, filled prisons, high crime, poverty, preteen pregnancies, & unsafe communities).

At every level, this state has benefited from a smart, educated workforce that created opportunities (out of genius and thin air) with lasting impact.

Medical alley, which has had a huge impact on this state’s fiscal well being, launched giant successful med tech companies and would not have done nearly so well without the very smart people that came through this states many fine schools and school programs because they were important at the time and well funded.

Children in Minnesota have had a friend and champion in Art Rolnick, who well understands Pliny’s 2500 year old observation, “What we do to our children, they will do to our society”.

It is easy to see the relationship between healthy, adjusted children and productive citizens.

Healthy, adjusted children do well in school and go on to lead lives that contribute to the well being of our community (and of course, the opposite is just as true).

There is no return on investment from children that we abandon in our system and the cost of crime and incarceration is a triple negative that can cost our state for a lifetime (five hundred million dollars for prisons in MN this year does not include the medical costs, the cost of crime, fear, or blighted neighborhoods). The relationship between success in school and crime and preteen pregnancy is well established.

Art refers to medical costs driving state deficits. A growing body of evidence from the medical community proves that the chronic disease and medical costs of at risk children is another extreme cost to our communities (www.avahealth.org – this site is worth spending some time on)

I met Art Rolnick a few years ago when he graciously allowed me to use his work (as chapter five) in the writing of my book INVISIBLE CHILDREN.

It was my purpose to draw attention to the behavior problems and learning ability that I see in abused and neglected children that continue to negatively impact our schools and later on, the safety of our communities.

Art’s Federal Reserve Board research clearly demonstrates the high return on investment in children (8% to 16%)

There is even a higher return on investment for Invisible Children (three million children are reported to child protection services in this nation each year in this nation) to make them ready to learn and prepare them for a place in our community.

These are the children I continue to watch and hope for as budgets and services are cut and policy makers think they are saving money by not investing in programs that could change the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

On top of all this positive financial and socially important evidence, it is the right thing to do.

“Rolnick has been sounding the alarm about early ed since 2003… Little kids don’t vote…Early ed has a champion in Rolnick. Now it needs one in the Governors office”.

Lori Sturdevant: Art Rolnick’s six bullet points for state success

Rolnick: Minnesota should target spending on high-return services — like early education.

Last update: July 3, 2010 – 5:53 PM

Art Rolnick’s economics wisdom would be worth hearing during an election-year summer, even if he weren’t about to end 25 years as senior vice president and director of research at the Minneapolis Fed.

But his visit to the Star Tribune last week was pegged to his pending move down river. Accordingly, news before wisdom: On July 30, Rolnick will leave his perch at the beautiful Federal Reserve Bank just north of the Falls of St. Anthony. Sometime in September, he’ll be ensconced just south of the falls as codirector of the Humphrey Institute’s Human Capital Research Collaborative, with an emphasis on early education.

That means that one of Minnesota’s best sources of research-based advice about how to keep this state prosperous won’t be gone long. But candidates for governor and the Legislature — and the voters who will evaluate them — would benefit now from a dose of Rolnick’s thinking. As is his wont, he cheerfully obliged:

•Education has been key to Minnesota’s success. “Sometime in the early 1950s, we started to pour money into education. Today, we’re one of the most educated states in the country. This is more than just a correlation. It’s causality. Human capital investment in education is what helps to create strong economies.

“The education premium — the increased lifetime earnings if you get a college degree rather than just a high school diploma — used to be 40 percent. It’s now 70, 80, some have it as high as 100 percent, and growing. The market is telling us something: As our economy has progressed, human capital is a critical ingredient to economic growth.”

•The Great Recession is confirming the value of Minnesota’s education spending. “Minnesota’s unemployment right now is 7 percent, well below the national average. I attribute that to having an active and highly educated workforce. Relative to the nation, we shine.

“Are taxes too high?” is the wrong question. “The question should be, are we providing high-quality public goods at the least cost? There are certain public goods which the market fails to produce enough of — education, clean air, safety. Any economy needs these public goods in order to progress.

“All taxes distort. We know taxes are a problem. Nevertheless, if you are getting a high public return, that’s an argument for tax-and-spend. … I have no trouble with a relatively high-tax state that produces really good public services. I would argue that Minnesota has been that for years, and we have one of the best economies in the world.”

•Capital is more mobile now — but the need for government services is also greater now. “Businesses don’t want to locate in areas with high crime and poor educational systems.”

•The next governor and Legislature need to rigorously prioritize spending. “We have to make sure that the high-return public investments are funded. What’s driving our deficits at the state level are medical costs.

“We’ve got to get more disciplined about controlling that. We’re going to have no choice.

“I wouldn’t say ‘Don’t raise taxes.’ But you can’t raise them too far above other states. I’ve supported expanding the sales tax to clothing in a progressive way. There are ways to reformulate the tax system to make it more efficient.”

•Minnesota has been missing the biggest public investment opportunity — early education. “We’re way under-investing in early education. There’s all kinds of research to say that if you provide a healthy environment for our children starting as early as prenatal, so that kids when they start kindergarten are healthy and cognitively ready and socially ready to learn, our children are much more likely to be successful in life. The return we’ve calculated for this is extraordinary. Yet we’ve hardly invested in it. … Other states are passing us by.”

• • •

Rolnick has been sounding an alarm about early ed since 2003. The results to date are more public awareness of the issue and an exciting pilot program involving 625 parents in St. Paul, sponsored by the privately funded Minnesota Early Learning Foundation.

And too little else.

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