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These comments are responses to the statements listed below,
which were generated in regard to the 
Art Rolnick  Interview of

Investment in Pre-K education is vital to long-term economic competitiveness


Art Rolnick of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs reports that early childhood education provides an 18 percent inflation-adjusted return on investment when it's provided to the most at-risk, vulnerable kids. He argues that early childhood education, including prenatal to age three, is the best investment Minnesota can make to promote long-term economic development. Following a successful, privately-funded pilot program offering preschool scholarships to at-risk kids, the 2013 Legislature appropriated $40 million over two years to fund such scholarships across the state.

Rolnick contends that giving public subsidies to attract private businesses is the wrong way to do economic development. Instead, the right way to promote long-term competitiveness, he says, is by investing in human capital, focusing especially on at-risk prekindergarten children. He questions the priority state and local governments give instead to such projects as public funding for the Mall of America, building and operating light-rail transit, and funding the proposed streetcars in Minneapolis.

For the complete interview summary see: Rolnick interview

Response Summary: Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

To assist the Civic Caucus in planning upcoming interviews, readers rated these statements about the topic on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 

1. Topic is of value. (9.3 average response) The interview summarized today provides valuable information or insight.

2. Further study warranted. (8.5 average response) It would be helpful to schedule additional interviews on this topic.

Readers rated the following points discussed during the meeting on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 

3. Spur economy by investing in Pre-K Ed. (7.9 average response) The best investment Minnesota could make to strengthen its economy is to make pre-kindergarten education and development available to all children in the state.

4. Health as important as education. (8.5 average response) Emphasis on health is just as important as emphasis on education for pre-kindergarten children.

5. Prefer Pre-K Ed. to business subsidies. (8.9 average response) Early childhood education is vastly more important to economic development than publicly-funded incentives for specific businesses.

6. Subsidies only move jobs around. (8.3 average response) Subsidy-based competition among states for economic development doesn't create jobs; it just moves jobs from one location to another.

7. Stop subsidies through taxation. (7.8 average response) To stop preferential government-financed benefits for one business over another, the U.S Congress should require the benefits to be reported as income and levy a 100 percent confiscatory tax on that income.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Topic is of value.







2. Further study warranted.







3. Spur economy by investing in Pre-K Ed.







4. Health as important as education.







5. Prefer Pre-K Ed. to business subsidies.







6. Subsidies only move jobs around.







7. Stop subsidies through taxation.







Individual Responses:

Kevin Edberg (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

2. Further study warranted. Another way to think about Minnesota's investment in human capital is to consider the virtues of tolerance and support for individual opportunity. Two examples: Minnesota was a relatively early supporter of women's rights, and especially in the area of workplace discrimination. While there is still a long way to go, one of the key economic contributors to our economic well being is a very high labor participation rate, meaning high levels of both men and women are participating in the work force, bringing talents and leadership to the workplace, and growing human capital. I haven't checked recently, but a decade or so ago, MN was in the top 3 states in the country in workforce participation rate. A different take would be to consider how social tolerance and equal opportunity employment practices of major employers in the Cities allowed us to attract creative talent through the in-migration of young gays/lesbians in the 1980's/90s from less progressive areas of the Midwest such as ND, SD, NE, and IA. (Think about the growth of Uptown and similar neighborhoods, long before legal recognition and acceptance became real). Using the thought process of Richard Florida, it wasn't that we catered to GLBT folks; it's that we had a tolerance for "different", "alternative" and sometimes just plain "weird" that sent the message that this was an OK place to be. We picked up a lot of creative talent that way, to the detriment of other mostly politically and socially rural states that were hemorrhaging their youthful talent. How might Civic Caucus explore that thinking about "tolerance as social capital" begetting "human capital", and leading to "financial capital"?

4. Health as important as education. Another way of considering our mis-investment is to consider the amount of health care dollars spent in the last 6-12 months of life vs. dollars spent pre-natal/first years of life. We spend a lot of money, but not with particularly good return on investment.

6. Subsidies only move jobs around. Rolnick is right on.

John Watson Milton (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

2. Further study warranted. Especially on the topic of early childhood education.

3. Spur economy by investing in Pre-K Ed. The impetus for this in the Legislature was mostly from the DFL. Pawlenty's record was anti-education, and some GOP legislators in 2013 were still dragging their feet.

4. Health as important as education. A no-brainer to the educated public.

5. Prefer Pre-K Ed. to business subsidies. If Emmer had been elected governor, the progress made in 2013 would never have happened. Look at the Piketty report on income disparity. Isn't the answer pretty obvious?

6. Subsidies only move jobs around. If you agree with me on this, how about climate change and immigration reform?

Richard McGuire (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (10)

3. Spur economy by investing in Pre-K Ed. Minnesota shoud be the model for the nation in this area.

David Dillon (10) (10) (5) (10) (10) (10) (10)

Dave Broden (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (10)

1. Topic is of value. Solid and credible expression of value of education and overall regional economy.

2. Further study warranted. Expand specific topics within the subject.

3. Spur economy by investing in Pre-K Ed. The evidence supports this investment in many ways.

4. Health as important as education. The two topics are directly linked.

5. Prefer Pre-K Ed. to business subsidies. Early childhood education ensures opportunity for all and opens the door for future economic growth.

6. Subsidies only move jobs around. While some company moves may result in increased jobs as new products are evolved, the most common [effect] is only to move and apply the same level of workforce or perhaps less if a new location results in new operational capability. Productivity is too often ignored in moves ,but it is often the reason. For example, consider the changes in the auto industry.

7. Stop subsidies through taxation. The concept is innovative and can be effective. There should be criteria that consider both the move and the impact on overall national competitiveness such as productivity.

Anonymous (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5)

Scott Halstead (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

7. Stop subsidies through taxation. There certainly should not be any subsidies for redevelopment when the Government makes investments in Light Rail Transit. There should be a property tax surcharge.

Ralph Brauer (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (2.5) (2.5)

1. Topic is of value. The work of Rolnick and his colleagues has been extremely valuable. Their data refute the laissez faire beliefs that inexplicably continue to survive.

2. Further study warranted. One thing their research is not tracking is the systemic dimension of early childhood measures. In the model we built of various populations that has been used by schools and foundations, we found that it was important to understand what we term the "supply demand" dimensions of any education intervention, with "demand" being the students' needs and "supply" being the resources the system brings to them. The actual model is much more complex with a variety of feedbacks. The short answer is that ECFE funds need to be targeted to the populations that most need them. Unfortunately that is not happening in Minnesota. It is not accident that the highest performing districts in the state are those with the most resources.

3. Spur economy by investing in Pre-K Ed. It is important to realize the payoff for this will be years down the road. In a book I just completed on the late nineteenth century, capacity building measures like ECFE did not pay off for a decade or two.

4. Health as important as education. This one should be obvious, but our current batch of policy-makers doesn't seem to get it, making cuts in funds for nutrition and other measures.

5. Prefer Pre-K Ed. to business subsidies. In the late nineteenth century the government poured billions of dollars into subsidies, such as providing incentives to build railroads. Curiously these acted as a drag on the economy because in most cases they did not "trickle down" to workers. Business subsidies need to be tied to employment and wages. On the other hand, capacity building measures such as the Hatch Act, which founded agricultural experiment stations, paid off in multiple ways, so the benefits per dollar invested were far higher than the subsidies. Having worked with the late Bill Norris, he maintained there was one subsidy for business that did have a payoff and that was a subsidy for "incubators" or start-ups. It is these innovative new businesses that will be the Apples and Intels of tomorrow.

6. Subsidies only move jobs around. This is an old red herring that Minnesota has been disproving for years, at least until the Pawlenty administration started using Mississippi as a guideline for budget decisions. We were a high tax state, but those high taxes brought good schools, good health care and other benefits. So until recently we were a high tax/high employment state.

7. Stop subsidies through taxation. Systemically this option is not well thought out. It has the potential for many unintended consequences. It also seems rather silly. You give with one hand and then take away with the other. Better to carefully target your subsidies.

Don Anderson (5) (5) (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (5)

Eric Premack (10) (7.5) (5) (5) (7.5) (10) (10)

2. Further study warranted. I've long heard conflicting views on the value/return of/on early childhood education and would be interested in credible information on what forms actually generate the huge payback cited by Rolnick.

Chuck Slocum (7.5) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (5) (5)

1. Topic is of value. As I am familiar with the message and have been active in the Minnesota Business for Early Learning organization that predated MELF, I found it an important contribution to the economic competitiveness theme of the Civic Caucus.

2. Further study warranted. The funding silos of the education establishment have prevented the necessary early learning investments for at-risk young learners, too many of whom do not catch up.

3. Spur economy by investing in Pre-K Ed. There are many investments that have a pay-back for taxpayers but the education and development of children, the future workers, is a very important one, if not the most important.

4. Health as important as education. A healthy child can unhealthy one is often unable to do so under any circumstances.

5. Prefer Pre-K Ed. to business subsidies. Yes.

6. Subsidies only move jobs around. I have read the Fed research on this, including the "too big to fail" study. Subsidies for business may not do much, but they seem to be popular and essential on various ED projects that do create jobs.

7. Stop subsidies through taxation. Such a proposed law has had legs in the past. We in business talk a better game at an "even playing field" than actually doing it when it comes to subsidies. A 100% tax on any subsidy would eliminate the public subsidy practice, no doubt.

Tom Spitznagle (8) (6) (5) (7) (6) (8) (2)

Not sure that the only reason that Minnesota became strong economically after 1950 was that it committed lots of money to education. [That] seems too simplistic.

Agree that public funding for light rail may not be a good use of public funds compared with education. However, some studies show that early education funding doesn't provide the expected benefits either.

Competition for attracting businesses is international now, so taxing the incentives a state provides to lure a business may be counterproductive.

Bureaucrats have a never-ending focus on finding the magic funding bullet for a never-ending series of serious social problems. Unfortunately in too many instances there is a poor correlation between the solutions and the problems.

Roger A. Wacek (na) (na) (0) (0) (5) (10) (10)

The best investments to maintain the economy are in energy: energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy. The dollar is, by default, on the oil standard. Oil is our main energy (re)source that has peaked out, and hence our economy has peaked. Education has nothing to do with the economy.

Chuck Lutz (9) (8) (9) (10) (8) (8) (7)

Mina Harrigan (10) (8) (10) (10) (10) (8) (8)


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Interview Group  includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (coordinator), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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