Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning

The University of Mississippi School of Education


The Rate of Return in Investments in Preparing the Workforce through High Quality Early Childhood

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported on April 6 that incentives paid by the state to persuade companies to relocate to the state are paying off. A study conducted by State Auditor, Stacy Pickering’s office found the state has had a return of $12 for every $1 invested in the five incentive programs operated by the Mississippi Development Authority, even when taking failures into account.  This rate of return is almost as high as that of investing in high quality early childhood education as a work force development strategy according to Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman. Dr. Heckman, who spoke with Mississippi’s work force development leaders at a meeting several months ago, was direct in his message-work force development begins with infants and toddlers. His work points to a 13.7% per annum rate of return for individuals experiencing high quality early childhood education when factoring income, family stability, health and social status of individuals over their life trajectory. 

As Pickering’s report points out, his office studied 243 projects going back to 2010 that were awarded incentives by the state. The audit cited 11 failures and 5 programs considered successful. The five studied that were considered successes have generated 36,000 jobs and $8 billion in investments they have offered.  This report, in conjunction with Dr. Heckman’s economic analysis of where work force development funding’ s greatest return in investment is realized, sets a new course for work force developers. This is an alignment of facts which provides a clear map for allocating work force development funds to grow workers with the needed skills to perform the jobs coming to town. 

While Mississippi is not considered in the top tier of Republican states that have invested state funds in significant amounts toward early childhood programs, the potential of an infusion of work force dollars in addition to the Federal funds the state receives for providing child care for children living in low income homes where parents work is a no-brainer for the education of the next work force. This investment, along with Head Start funding and state funds for pre-kindergarten collaboratives, makes for an evidenced based strategy that will result in the prepared work force the state is going to need if jobs are filled. Honest assessments of current early childhood systems or lack of them as well as thoughtful planning that holds agency and program entities accountable to correct missteps is critical. This, along with carefully designed programs targeting very young children, such as the Coleman Parenting Center in Petal, holds the key for a new Mississippi led by highly trained workers who attended Mississippi Schools and graduated at the top of their classes.

By Dr. Cathy Grace

Omnibus Budget Bill in Congress Holds Promise for Young Children

On March 23 the US Congress is due to vote on the FY2018 budget. This will happen when they vote on the Omnibus Bill, an all-encompassing one that includes requests to domestic programs such as the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) . The CCDBG program assists low income parents in securing child care for their children while they work or are in school or job training. It is especially important for families in Mississippi since over 60% of our children 6 years of age and younger are living in low income households.

Through a three generation educational opportunity provided by CCDBG funds, parents improve their earning power, child care providers receive additional training and an opportunity for job promotion with an increase in salary, and the young children in programs receiving the funds gain the skills needed to be successful in school.

Currently, the Omnibus Bill contains a $2.9 billion increase for FY 2018 and, as a result of a bipartisan deal struck, an additional $2.9 billion increase promised in the FY2019 budget bill that will begin to take shape as soon as the FY2018 is final. Confusing? Yes. Good for our children? Yes.

The passage of this budget signals that, in cases where both political parties can agree, the well being of children benefits. It would be a great day if our state legislature could take a lesson from this action and try to do the same. The longer we delay as a state to increase funding to education programs, including programs serving young children, the more jobs in the state will be looking for people. Eventually, employers will move to Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana or Arkansas where qualified workers reside.

We are not a state comprised of ignorant people. Sometimes we tolerate ignorant actions because we are too disconnected from the advances other states in the region are making to rise up and use our voting power. Sometimes we are misled by information issued with a political slant that paints one picture while, in reality, the canvas hasn’t even gotten a brush stroke on it. No, we are not a state of ignorant people, but perhaps we are too trusting on one hand about government reporting and on the other hand too skeptical.

How opinions are usually formed from experiences that swayed us to one train of thought or ideology. The question remains, are we bound by the one experience for a lifetime? Experiences are part of daily living and if we are open minded enough to embrace new lessons from social science, brain science, and educational research, we will grow as families, communities, states and as a nation.

Every year we delay funding for education and programs serving young children, we are increasing the likelihood of continued employer exodus and inability to recruit new businesses. Corporate tax credits are the popular course chosen by the legislature for now to recruit employers. Wonder how that will work in the next 2-4 years when jobs remain unfilled and the state does not deliver on its promises of a well-trained workforce?

by Dr. Cathy Grace

After A While You Don’t Know Your Lens is Cloudy

I had cataract surgery two years ago. My vision immediately improved. New glasses and “new eyes” gave me a new perspective on life. This week I returned for laser surgery on my eyes because “film” had grown over the lens and was obscuring my vision. The funny thing was I did not know it. On a routine eye examination, my ophthalmologist asked if I had noticed fuzziness or a lack of clarity in my view of the world. I was shocked, especially when he said it was significant and questioned why I had not noticed the slight “curtain” that was minimizing my sight. It must have sneaked up on me when I was not looking (excuse the pun!).

I wonder how many of us have “cloudy vision” and don’t even know it? For example, in Mississippi we are told repeatedly by lawmakers we have no money to spend on education, and yet we moan about the brain drain and lack of employees to fill jobs in manufacturing operations across the state. Helen Keller said, “I’d rather be blind than have sight with no vision.” Our state has a problem with lack of vision that laser surgery and bifocals will not fix. We seem to suffer from selective blindness. Funding education and health services are no brainers, and yet all we seem to read and hear about are budget cuts in order to balance the budget in a state that doesn’t have the workers to take highly skilled jobs that pay a living wage so more individuals can pay taxes, which increases our revenue.

Recently a Nobel Prize winning economist, Dr. James Heckman, visited our state as part of an early childhood speaker series funded by the Graduate Center. He met with numerous decision makers, educators and experts in work force development. His discussions focused on the high rate of return of investment (ROI) has in the short and long term when investments are made in high quality infant and toddler educational programs, including home visiting. Dr. Heckman and his colleagues’ analysis of data finds a 13% ROI for comprehensive, high-quality, birth-to-five early education and comprehensive health services. This new ROI, representing high-quality, comprehensive programs from birth to five, is substantially higher than the 7-10% return previously established for preschool programs serving 3- to 4-year-olds. ( and our web site where his slides are found).

Dr. Heckman has researched the long-term impact on the lives of individuals, analyzing the life trajectory of children who attended the Abecedarian Project begun over 40 years ago by Dr. Craig Ramey (see his presentation here). Dr. Ramey presented the findings at a meeting sponsored by the Graduate Center as part of the speaker series and stressed the research method employed is considered as robust as any conducted. He is in agreement with Dr. Heckman’s assessment of the project which continues to influence the science of early care and education today. The high quality components found in the Abecedarian Project reflect the commitment Dr. Ramey and his colleagues placed on putting the children ahead of politics and funding issues 40 years ago. Those who have done the work and conducted irrefutable examination of the outcomes are acknowledged as leaders in our country and around the world.

What is frightening to me is that after 40 years our collective vision in Mississippi is not only cloudy but blinded by ideology. We need not only surgery to correct the vision problem, but new eyes to focus on the issues before it is too late to recover from the selective blindness plaguing our legislators.

by Dr. Cathy Grace

Who knew what when?

We’ve been hearing that question a lot lately relative to the shenanigans going on in our nation’s capitol. It originated as possibly the most famous quote from the 1973 Watergate hearings when Senator Howard Baker asked White House counsel John Dean, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” with regard to President Nixon’s role in the break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in Washington.

It’s a great question, right? Short and to the point. When the question is asked, it generally seeks to call attention to people in positions of authority who either did, or didn’t do, something that is contrary to the state or nation’s best interest, including something negligent, unlawful, or at least reflecting poor judgment.

In a democracy such as ours, citizens feel they have a right to information that can inform their voting decisions, so the policy choices of our elected leaders are worthy of analysis, especially how those policies impact the well being of all our people and our economic prosperity.

So, what did Mississippians know about our state and when did we know it?

Mississippi has long led the nation in poverty, poor health, teen pregnancy, and other factors that put children and their futures at risk. Here are only a few of the alarming statistics we know:

  • A third of all children in MS live in poverty.
  • We consistently have among the nation’s worst rates of premature births which can lead to cognitive and neurodevelopmental impairments.
  • Only 57% of Mississippians are participating in the labor force (2nd worst).
  • We are in the Top 5 for residents collecting disability benefits.
  • MS incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than China or Russia.
  • Our state’s economy is growing far slower than other southern states and behind the rest of the country.

Mississippi is the only Deep South state that has lost population for three years in a row. According to a report from the College Board, only a little more than half of the graduates of Mississippi’s eight public universities are working in the state five years after graduation. Many of our best and brightest are leaving for better opportunities for themselves and their children.

The maddening thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way! Professor James Heckman’s research shows that every dollar invested in high quality early learning programs can reap $7 in return, or over 13% annualized return on investment. The benefits are seen in reductions in the need for special education and remediation, social and health services, lower incarceration, and increased economic independence.

Some might argue, “But it would take many years to see any benefit.” Wrong. Professor Heckman says returns can be seen in as little as three years. And the improved results persist through adulthood.

Fanny Lou Hamer famously said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” How bad does it have to get before we get sick and tired of being last? Must we sacrifice yet another generation on the altar of political ideology? There are a number of things that can and should be done to put our state on a path to prosperity for all Mississippians, few of which are even being discussed in Jackson. A great place to start reversing the negative trend in our state is where there will be the greatest return on investment…by investing in our young children.

History will answer the question, “Who knew what when?” It cannot be said we didn’t know.

by Dr. Melody Musgrove

A List of Things We Can Hope For…

As the holiday season is quickly approaching, we often make lists. Lists that outline the menus for Thanksgiving dinner, or a holiday party, Christmas dinner and finally New Year’s Day and the football frenzy that is ongoing through January.  Other lists involve children’s wishes for gifts that Santa and other family members can use during shopping trips or in online purchasing.

I am proposing a list of sorts that is not one we can expect to check off by going shopping or planning meals. But, if one, just one of the items, was checked off by us as a collective state and country, the lives of millions of children would be altered for the greater good of us all.

  1. Political leaders, grow up. Leave the partisan attitude at the door and look past the power struggles that are plaguing us as a state and nation. Act like statesmen/women.
  2. Protect children. Value children as the precious resource they are. This value manifests itself in making and enforcing laws that come with heavy punishments and  little room for leniency for those convicted of domestic violence and/or human trafficking.
  3. Grow the workforce of the future. Fund evidence based programs that result in the investment of funding in high quality early childhood programs and programs meeting the mental and physical health needs of children.
  4. Reduce the number of unhealthy and disabled Mississippians. Numbers of Mississippi residents on disability are near the top in the country and will remain there unless the state moves into a pro-active rather than a reactive stance regarding prevention of health issues that are currently cutting into workforce recruitment. Federally, there needs to be an immediate reauthorizing of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the by-partisan federal insurance program for over 9 million low income children in the country and 80,000 in Mississippi.
  5. Put money where our mouths are regarding the sanctity of life. Raise the minimum wage so working families can have a better quality of life. While we speak of the sanctity of life, 61 percent of young children in Mississippi live in poverty and as a result suffer from its by-products such as a disturbance in normal brain development . Since Mississippi has set the minimum wage as $7.25 per hour , two parents working 40 hours a week will yield $580 a week before taxes. How does that support the current and future workforce? What quality of life does that ensure?

If Santa was presented this list, I am pretty sure he would ask Jesus for help. A miracle is in order.

By Dr. Cathy Grace


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