Gov. Phil Bryant kicked off a recent seminar at the Civil Rights Museum auditorium featuring Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman. An expert in the economics of human development, Dr. Heckman spoke on “Making the Case for Investing in High Quality Early Childhood Education in Mississippi.” The Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning at the University of Mississippi is hosting internationally known speakers to illustrate how investments in high quality early childhood education yield a high rate of return. Dr. Heckman’s research shows a 10% to 13% average return on investments (ROI) in high quality programs for disadvantaged children age zero to three.
The Governor, who met privately with Dr. Heckman after the event, spoke of his efforts to improve “the continuum of learning” for children. Citing the high volume of Mississippi children in daycare, he also noted that training programs at community colleges are working to upgrade the skills of daycare workers.
Dr. Heckman said the key to growing a skilled, flexible workforce in Mississippi is by building skills and not just technical skills. He said research shows developing “social and emotional skills” from birth to age three sets the stage for development of other skills. He added that “the family is the cornerstone of effective skill development.”
“Conscientiousness, self-control, motivation, persistence and sociability have far greater influence on full-time employment, lifetime wages, health, family and social outcomes than IQ and cognitive skills,” he said.
These are the soft skills employers yearn for in new hires.
Dr. Heckman said government should focus its limited dollars for early childhood interventions on children who will be most impacted. “The highest returns come from high quality programs for disadvantaged children,” he said. “Advantaged children have other resources often much better than those from public programs.”
“Invest more in flourishing lives, not in correcting problems after they appear,” he said. “Later remediation is largely ineffective.”
Dr. Heckman was the second in the three seminar series the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning is presenting. Drs. Craig and Sharon Ramey, experts in early childhood brain development, made the first presentation in December. Dr. Pat Levitt, Scientific Director of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, will make the final presentation this week. Dr. Levitt will discuss his research showing early life experiences influence social, emotional and learning skills, and how these skills come together to help children succeed in the real world and how healthy brain architecture provides the resilience to deal with adversity experienced during the first years of life.
Interestingly, just days after the Governor met with Dr. Heckman, the Mississippi Department of Human Services revealed it had returned $13 million to the federal government because of the lack of state matching funds. These funds were for child care vouchers for low income families. The Clarion-Ledger reported the Governor’s spokesman said, “Gov. Bryant fulfilled his statutory responsibility to balance the state’s budget” and he “is appreciative of efforts by Department of Human Services leadership to continue fulfilling the agency’s mission.”
What Mississippi needs and what we’ll pay for don’t always geehaw.