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Early childhood programs may lower crime, raise income

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Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman estimates that New Mexico could save $38 million annually on incarceration costs and crime-related expenditures by boosting the high school graduation rate of male students by 5 percent.

If that same 5 percent also went to college at the same rates as typical male high school graduates, their cumulative income would be $20 million higher than if they hadn't attended college.

Heckman, who teaches economics at the University of Chicago, believes graduation rates could be boosted if New Mexico invested more funding in early childhood development. His analysis of such investments shows an annual return of 7 percent to 10 percent.

"That's an extraordinary return on investment, and it does not factor the human side of the equation: a better quality of life for New Mexicans," said Veronica García, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. "The number of families not torn apart by drugs, violence and prison; the number of children not exposed to the kinds of adverse circumstances that will keep them from reaching their potential."

While New Mexico lawmakers increased funding for early childhood programs during the last legislative session, García said it still falls far short of the need.

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