It is no doubt going to be a hot summer in Washington, and the political hot air isn’t much help. A good way for our elected leaders to “chill out” might be to reach agreement on an issue that in the past has had strong bipartisan support. Support for early learning, particularly the extension and expansion of a current initiative that has proven to have an incredible positive return on investment, might be what is needed to put a welcome chill in the air.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for significant investments in preschool, and expansion of the highly successful federal home visiting initiative, called the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) initiative. As the President noted, analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis demonstrates a return on investment of up to $18 for every $1 we dedicate to these early learning strategies.
Parents as Teachers (PAT) is one of the selected evidence based home visiting models that states have adopted to inform and engage parents as the first and most significant teachers of their young children. In the last year alone, our Parent Educators have made nearly 1.7 million home visits with families across the nation. A 2007 study by Edward Zigler and Judy Pfannenstiel confirms that high-quality preschool, along with parent education services such as PAT, can virtually eliminate the learning gaps between children from low-income and middle-class families. So we have a strategy that both works, and saves more than it costs.
PAT was at first adopted by former Missouri Governor Kit Bond, a Republican. It has since been supported by governors and legislatures of both parties, in states across the nation. Ask any family who has benefited from PAT, and they will tell you how significant their parent educator was to them in their early years of parenting. In addition, many of our elected leaders have had personal experience with PAT as young parents.
The point is that early learning has bipartisan support because it works. PAT and similar home visiting models are proven to reduce child abuse and malnutrition, identify health and learning problems, and improve the overall physical and mental health of children and mothers. When we deal with these matters early in life, it makes for a healthier nation with more effective parents and higher-achieving children. It also costs a whole lot less to identify and treat developmental problems early, than to fix them later in life.
Federal funding for home visiting has benefited hundreds of thousands of families in every state in the nation. Members of Congress have an opportunity—this year—to extend and expand funding for MIECHV programs that have proven they can make a difference in the lives of children and families.
Yes, there’s a lot of hot air rising over Washington, and there are clear differences over the budget. But members of both parties should agree that proven interventions such as home visiting deserve continued and expanded funding. It is not just the right thing, it is the smart thing to do.
Scott Hippert is President and CEO of Parents as Teachers National Center.