The earliest years of a child’s life are the most critical in terms of their cognitive and emotional development, setting the stage for future learning in school and in life. It’s proven to fight poverty, save money, and promote our national economic prosperity. In fact, Nobel laureate James Heckman estimates that for every $1 invested in pre-K, we save $7 to $12 down the road.

That’s a pretty big return on investment. So, you’d think the United States would invest big in its kids. But, shockingly, a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development tracking education in 39 developed countries exposes that the United States is, in fact, at the back of the pack.

Enrollment Rates

That’s 32nd place. Out of 39.

At First Focus, we like to say that budget are about priorities. So it says a lot about our American priorities that just 8 percent of the federal budget is invested in children, who are 25 percent of the population. The low enrollment rates of young children in education is no surprise, then, when you compare our investment in our early education compared to other countries:


Quality early education is a game-changer, with a proven track record of reducing educational disparities that would otherwise hold back disadvantaged students. But the high cost of private pre-K (about the same as annual tuition at a public university) and insufficient federal investments in Head Start puts quality early education out of reach for millions of American children. That’s why we work hard to advocate for federal-state partnership, modeled on the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program, which would improve both quality and affordability.

Learn more about how we as a country can invest better in our kids and in early education here.

[iframe src=”//″ width=”500″ height=”281″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=””]

How does the U.S. rank on early childhood education? Hint: not well >> v/ @First_Focus #InvestInKids #EarlyEd
Tweet this now.

Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on early childhood. 

Want to get involved? You can support our work by making a donation or joining our mailing list to receive updates and action alerts on this issue.