Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild, and ReadyNation

This post provides additional background on the ReadyNation Global Business Summit on Early Childhood Education that will take place at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York City November 1-2, 2018. No U.S. educators or policy advocates may attend unless they come with at least four pre-approved business sponsors. Review the draft agenda here.

This is the second in a series. Read part one here.

Where did ReadyNation come from?

The idea emerged from a conversation three men had on a conference call during the summer of 2003:

  • Arthur Rolnick, senior researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve
  • Robert Dugger, financial policy analyst and venture capitalist
  • James Heckman, University of Chicago economics professor

Its first incarnation, the “Investing in Kids Working Group,” focused on researching returns on early childhood investments, developing finance mechanisms, and crafting policy recommendations. Over the past fifteen years Dugger, in consultation with Heckman and Rolnick and with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, gradually built a structure to undergird a global investment market fueled by debt associated with provision of early childhood education services.

The push for early childhood education access is NOT being driven by a desire to meet the basic human needs of children. Rather financial interests that view children as cogs in a national workforce development program are pushing it; and they see preschoolers as lumps of human capital to be plugged into economic forecasts. This is all happening at a time when human services are being privatized in the name of scalable, outcomes-driven social entrepreneurship. The trailer for a new documentary, The Invisible Heart, on social impact bonds indicates how much capital is flowing into this new market.

Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild, and Pay for Performance

Much of my research has focused on the Boston area (global finance), the Bay Area (tech), Chicago (blockchain), and New York (urban policy). So I was surprised to find what may be a key piece of this puzzle actually comes out of Minneapolis Minnesota. Though perhaps the fact that Minnesota is home to the nation’s first charter school, City Academy that opened in St. Paul in 1992, indicates local conditions favor neoliberal reforms.

Arthur (Art) Rolnick spent his 40-year career as a senior economic researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. During that time he also served as an associate professor in the economics department of the University of Minnesota and was co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The Collaborative houses the Chicago Longitudinal Study whose researchers are tracking the short and long term effects of early intervention on 1,000 students who attended Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers in 1984-85.

The Chicago Child-Parent Centers were service providers for one of the nation’s first two early childhood social impact bonds, begun in December 2014. The Chicago SIB included payout metrics tied to third grade literacy scores. Thus far the program has issued maximum payments to investors including Pritzker, Goldman-Sachs and Northern trust. According to this report from the Institute for Child Success, it is possible that over the seventeen-year time horizon for the SIB, $34 million could be paid out on the initial $16.9 investment.

Click here for the interactive version of this map.

Rolnick Rothschild Connection

Rolnick connected with Steven Rothschild, a former vice president at General Mills who left the corporate sector and launched Twin Cities RISE!, an “innovative anti-poverty” program that provided workforce training for low income adults, in the mid 1990s. Rothschild arranged with the state of Minnesota to provide services via an outcomes-based contracting arrangement where the organization was only paid when the “economic value” they provided to the state by increasing taxes (paid by those placed in jobs) and decreasing state expenditures (reduced costs for social services or incarceration) met approved targets.

Arthur Rolnick and Gary Stern of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve worked with Rothschild and Twin Cities Rise! to develop the economic analysis in support of the outcomes-based contracting initiative. Rolnick’s work with Rothschild eventually led him to examine the economic implications of early childhood interventions using data from the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study. In 2003, the year Rolnick had that auspicious phone call with Robert Dugger and James Heckman, he and and Rob Grunewald, regional economic analyst, put out the following report for the Minneapolis Federal Reserve: Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return.

In a 2006 profile of Rolnick, Minnesota journalist and blogger Kevin Featherly notes that report catalyzed $1 million in seed money for the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, a project of the Minnesota Business for Early Learning. It also put Rolnick and Grunewald on the lecture circuit for the next several years where they touted early childhood education as a prudent economic investment. Weatherly likened Rolnick’s schedule after the release of the report to that of a presidential candidate, sharing the stage with Jeb Bush at the National Governor’s Convention, the head of the Gates Foundation at the National Council of State Legislatures, and presenting to a global audience at the World Bank.

Rothschild who served on the boards of the Greater Twin Cities United Way and Minneapolis Foundation, went on to found the consulting firm Invest in Outcomes and write the Non Non-Profit, a book that exhorted non-profits to focus on the Return on Investment (ROI) and measurable economic outcomes of the services they provide. These ideas eventually led the Minnesota legislature to adopt the “Pay for Performance Act” in 2011 that appropriated $10 million for a pilot program to develop Human Capital Performance Bonds or HuCaps.

Rothschild provides a detailed explanation of how HuCaps function in a 2013 article for the San Francisco Federal Reserve’s publication Community Development Investment Review. HuCaps differ from social impact bonds in that they are true bonds and tap into the state bond markets; which, in theory, could give them access to significantly more capital-trillions of dollars rather than millions. In this podcast with the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Rothschild describes the model developed by Twin Cities RISE! as the basis for much of the social impact investing activities that have emerged over the past decade.

Continuum of InvestingSource for this slide.

As structured in the Minnesota legislation, the service provider is the one that takes the risk rather than the investor. If the provider is not able to meet the target metrics they are the ones who will not be paid. As a consequence, HuCaps have not yet taken off; see Propel Nonprofit’s analysis here.

HuCap StructureSource for this slide.

Nevertheless, there are those who have not given up on the Human Capital Performance Bond approach. Arnold Packer, former director of the education reform and workforce development SCANS 2000 Center based out of Johns Hopkins University, wrote about HuCaps for the Brookings Institution in 2015 (the co-chair of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making is Bruce Haskins also of Brookings). He noted that Milton Friedman was among the first to float the idea of leveraging private investment in human capital development. Take a minute to watch this one-minute video, from Institute for the Future, that portrays a college student contemplating entering into an income-sharing arrangement in exchange for tuition.

The idea that states could issue bonds for human capital in the same way they do for infrastructure like bridges, and that future savings will be created as people attain higher paying jobs due to their improved human capital, is central to the HuCap premise. In order to justify future cost savings, those receiving services must be tracked, so their “outcomes” can be measured over time. According to Arnold:

“This reform requires a shift in thinking on all sides, investors in human resources (early childhood education falls into this category) will have to consider statistically estimated benefits in terms of future cost savings and revenue as equivalent to projected revenue from a toll road. Government agencies will have to coordinate in order to structure attractive Human Resource bonds, since different agencies at different levels of government, benefit from the savings resulting from earlier investments.” Source

This model of finance, if ever widely adopted, would demand all recipients of public services (including education) be part of the government’s statistical estimate. Because many early-intervention services are directed at families, a person’s predictive profile would likely start to be amassed prenatally; babies assigned a Decentralized Identifier (DID), before they are even born. Estimates would be made about the likelihood a person would need to access services in the future, what those services would be, and what they would cost. Assessments would be made about the anticipated tax revenue a person would in turn generate over their lifetime. All of this data would need to be calculated in order to determine the impact metrics for the investors and structure “attractive human resource bonds.”

Before the rise of cloud-based computing, such a level of tracking would have been impossible. Having access to data to make those predictions would have been difficult to obtain. But that is rapidly changing in this world of Big Data, digital identity and “moneyball for kids.” The bi-partisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making concluded public hearings in February 2017, and the vast majority of those providing testimony favored creating enormous pools of data to inform public policy decisions.

Evidence Based Policy Making

Read the report.

Responsibilities of the Commission on Evidence Based Policy Making:

CEP charges

Things seem to be on hold for the moment with Human Capital Performance Bonds, but I feel strongly they may be simply waiting in the wings until Blockchain sovereign identity is normalized. An Illinois state Blockchain task force (note Pritzker, backer of early childhood SIBs is running a well-funded campaign for governor of Illinois now) has developed preliminary recommendations linking public service benefits to citizens using Blockchain technology. They even envision building in behavioral incentives tied to the provision of services through digital economic platforms. See the diagram below for an illustration of how they might incentivize food purchases.

Blockchain SNAP Nudge

Read the report.

Of course the implications of this type of manipulation for people who live in food deserts with limited access to fresh produce remains unaddressed. And it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how other choices might be economically incentivized: which online course to take (the evidence-based one); which training program (the evidence-based one); which therapy provider (the evidence-based one); which medical treatment (the evidence-based one). But by whose measure? Who sets the metrics? Who profits when “evidence-based” standards are imposed?

How will independently-owned, neighborhood-based child care centers fare in this new landscape? If they are shuttered, what will the economic impacts be for communities, especially in economically distressed neighborhoods where such businesses are important sources of employment? Will small-scale providers be willing to collect the “human capital” data required to take advantage of pay for success investments? If they are willing, would they even have the money to purchase the technology (smart tables, anyone?) required to gather their “impact” evidence?

Smart Tables

Rob Grunewald, Rolnick’s collaborater on the Federal Reserve Early Childhood paper, is on the ReadyNation Summit planning committee. Rolnick is part of a workshop, “Scalable Success Stories in Early Childhood Programs,” at 11:45 on Friday, November 2nd.

Rolnick ReadyNation Agenda

The “pay for performance” finance mechanism dreamed up by Rothschild and Rolnick in the 1990s is particularly well-suited to this age of Internet of Things data collection, surveillance, predictive analytics, financialization, and economic precocity. This is why we should all be very concerned about ReadyNation’s Global Business Summit on Early Childhood; especially because it so clearly discourages early childhood educators and policy advocates from attending.

Next up, Dr. James Heckman and the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

One thought on “Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild, and ReadyNation”

  1. Amazing detail and videos and charts. I recognize the name of economist Ron Ferguson who developed a survey for the Gates-funded Measures of Effective Teaching project. The initial survey for students (grades 3-6, 7-12) included extensive questionnaires about support for studies at home–totally over the top, evidently ignoring FERPA.
    As I may have mentioned, Obama sent $200 million to the MIT incubator for SIBS. Although I have been tracking some of the activity in SIBs, your work hers is really superior to anything I have seen anywhere. I am a reader of several non-profit publications and blogs. That community is beginning to see that their “good works” orientation is really old-school, meaning SIBS and variants are getting a lot of PR. I think I have mentioned that Robinhood.org is a good source of information on how the metrics for “benefits” from SIBs are monetized.

    Like

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