When city government leaders in San Antonio decided to fund a prekindergarten program using sales tax revenues, they made a case that doing so was an economic imperative as a growing city, that investing in the future workforce was about the city’s future prosperity, and that remaining attractive to companies and workers meant having a more educated population. Other compelling factors were the city’s increasing Hispanic population, its high poverty index, urban sprawl, and an underfunded early-education system. To get a sense of the potential impact of early-childhood efforts that take into account these and other characteristics, I spoke to Caridad Araujo, the lead economist in the social protections and health division of the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C. She works in poverty-reduction and early-childhood-development programs, designing projects and allocating funds to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The projects usually emerge from policy reforms or enhancements initiated by municipal or state governments, similar to how Pre-K for San Antonio was a government-led effort. In the area of early childhood, her work has focused on improving the quality of services in Latin American countries. We spoke about best practices in launching such efforts, the economic measures used to determine need and eligibility, and the potential long-term impact of such efforts on the population. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
What are the main structural requirements for creating early-childhood support systems?
In the area of early childhood, our projects cover a range of areas of intervention. In early-childhood education, for example, investing in starting childhood services or early-education services or improving their quality. But we are also working a lot, for example, in supporting parenting programs: It could be home visits, it could be group modalities, in order to promote better parenting practices, better quality of interaction at home, more opportunities for social stimulation and learning. We also work through the health sector to incorporate early-childhood messages in the regular health checkup visits.