Washington More than 20 years later, educational attainment is higher and felony arrests are lower for the alumni of a Chicago early-intervention program for low-income children.
The enrollees, who are now in their late 20s, are also less likely to describe themselves as depressed and more likely to have health insurance, according to a follow-up study released this week.
According to co-author Arthur J. Reynolds, a child-development professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the gains in terms of reduced social welfare costs already have far exceeded the program's $5,000 per student-year cost to the Chicago public school system.
"By the time they're 65, a conservative estimate would be a 10-to-1 gain," Reynolds said, considering reduced societal costs for remedial education, health care and incarceration.
The findings, which appear in this month's issue of the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Medical Association, are the first to affirm the long-term value of a large public early-childhood enrichment program.
Chicago's Child-Parent Center program was - and is - more intense than Head Start, the main federal assistance program for low-income children and their families.
Since 1967, Child-Parent Centers in neighborhood schools have provided comprehensive education, health, job and family services throughout the school year for kids and their parents. Most children begin the program at age 3 or 4, and can receive help until they're in the second or third grade. Its teachers have four-year college degrees and special training in early childhood education.
The cost was about $2,000 more per pupil, according to Reynolds, than the full-time regular kindergarten and Head Start programs that a comparable sample of kids attended. All lived in the poorest school district on Chicago's West Side.
The survey of 1,539 Child-Parent Center alumni found them to be doing better in these ways:
¢ High school completion: 71 percent, versus 62 percent for nonparticipants.
¢ Felony arrests: 17 percent, versus 21 percent.
¢ Incarceration: 21 percent, versus 26 percent.
¢ Full-time employment: 43 percent, versus 36 percent.