June 21, 2011; Source: MinnPost | A Minnesota nonprofit has put itself out of business – in a good way – and has left the gift of quality research that proves early education is a good investment for states. Policymakers and advocates will have access to the work at its permanent home at the University of Minnesota.

The Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELD) will close this year as planned. Over the past ten years, it served as a resource for advocates to quantify that high quality early childhood education is an investment that pays dividends in dollars and human potential.

The agency started a decade ago when, as welfare disappeared, the state started to subsidize day care for low-income families. Then Gov. Tim Pawlenty started slashing the child-care subsidy program with the argument that its good money being thrown away

Soon two economists concluded that early childhood education has an ROI of 16-to-1; for every $16 the state spends on the program, it will get $1 back. Corporate executives and advocates both questioned these figures and MELD was born.

The mission of MELD was to define precisely what a quality early childhood program looks like in the classroom, the best strategies to position a child to succeed in school, and how to guide families to the best program offered in the free market.

It tested programs in both urban and rural communities and gave scholarships to low-income families who used the highest rated programs. Children excelled in these opportunities and the program expanded. Most importantly, the rating system assured taxpayers that their money was being invested in programs that brought results. Four years into its five-year life, over 22,000 children were readied for school through the program.

Thanks to MELD’S efforts, advocates will have the data and outcomes to prove to skeptics that early childhood education is not an expense, but a good, solid investment to build a strong and educated workforce of adults.—Nancy Knoche