President Dennis Lockhart: Early Education Commission

March 2010

Moderator: Welcome. We're speaking with Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart, who for nearly two years has also served as co-chair of the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta's Early Education Commission. The Commission's other co-chair is Dr. Beverly Tatum, who is president of Spelman College in Atlanta.

The commission has set out to assess the pre-K education landscape in the Atlanta area and recommend a way forward. Extensive research makes a pretty compelling case for investing in early education as part of the education continuum, and that's a lot of what we are going to discuss today with President Lockhart.

Dennis, thanks for your time today.

President Lockhart: Charles, thank you.

Moderator: First off, Dennis, what has the research conducted by Fed economists, as well as others, found about investments in early childhood education and why those are important?

President Lockhart: Well, Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald of the Minneapolis Fed have been leaders in this field, and they have picked up on research done by James Heckman and other really noted scholars focusing on the return, call it return on investment in early learning, early childhood education. They found that return can be quite substantial, quite competitive with other economic development–type projects. So the real thrust of their thinking is that we should think of this kind of investment in children early in their lives as, among other things, an economic development kind of investment.

Moderator: Well, Dennis, why are you and other Fed officials speaking out about the importance of these types of investments?

President Lockhart: Well, I think it's part of what we here in Atlanta like to define as our broad mission, and that's economic vitality. And so, getting to children early in their lives and building a base of readiness for kindergarten, and readiness for formal schooling, has the potential of improving their success in school. For the individual, improving lifetime earnings. And for the community, reducing the cost of remedial action against social programs. All of that, I think, contributes to broad economic vitality.

Moderator: Well, Dennis, just in brief, what does the Early Education Commission do, and what exactly is your role with the commission?

President Lockhart: Well, the United Way sponsored this commission, along with some other civic leaders in Atlanta, and the idea was to take a very hard look at the state of affairs in early learning, early education in Atlanta, and then make some recommendations, findings and recommendations, about how to go forward. My colleague, Beverly Tatum, the president of Spelman College, and I went into this feeling that we wanted to do something relatively bold. We didn't want just a weak set of findings; we wanted something that could really move Atlanta forward in the field of early childhood education.

We expect that we will come out shortly with our findings and recommendations, and that will involve efforts to raise the awareness of various constituencies, but especially parents to form a new entity that would provide cohesive leadership in the community around early education, and a number of different strategies to really move Atlanta into a leadership position.

Moderator: Well, Dennis, what are some of the reasons why you initially decided to become involved with the commission?

President Lockhart: Well, I was new in town and probably represented some new blood to people who were looking for some leadership in this area. My first reaction was, "How can you turn down children?" I'm sort of a sucker for children; so that was my first emotion. But when I looked at the issue and got a sense of the potential for return on investment in children at early stages in their lives, I really became quite a convert to this subject matter. So, initially I was pretty naive about it, but as I got into it I began to see, really, one of the relatively few areas for public and philanthropic—let's just call it social investment—that can really make a big difference.

Moderator: Well, Dennis, obviously the commission's work has a long-term focus, but what effect on that work, as well as on early education in general, has the recession had?

President Lockhart: Certainly, the recession has affected this arena as it has affected practically everything. In Georgia we have some state funding that supports centers for early childhood education, and some of that funding has been reduced. There is a state agency that's responsible for this, and their budget has been cut. Obviously, many parents find it difficult to afford this kind of thing for their children, particularly the parents who may have lost a job or something like that. So, we've seen the effect of the recession across the board, both at the state funding level, the provider level, the parent outlay level.

Moderator: All right. Well, we've been speaking today with Dennis Lockhart, who is president of the Atlanta Fed, as well as co-chair of the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta's Early Education Commission. Thanks for your thoughts today, Dennis.

President Lockhart: Thank you.