DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- The most recent studies done by U.S. economists estimates that for every dollar spent on early childhood education now, there is a $16 return when they are young adults.

"You save in terms of juvenile delinquency, incarceration rates, crimes, a better workforce..." said Leah Pigatti, executive director for Mahube-Otwa in Detroit Lakes, an organization designed to provide a comprehensive early childhood education to area children who live in poverty.

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It seems more and more people are seeing early childhood as a solid investment into local communities, and the conversations being held on several levels reflect that.

State legislators are expected to begin discussions next year on a statewide $350 million investment that would go to help schools incorporate preschools into the school districts.

Whispers from the state are being passed on at the local level, prompting school officials to begin the "what ifs."

"It (a central pre-school facility) is still a big part of what the district would put out there for building projects," said Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke of the potential building bond currently being planned and discussed.

Again, creating that space for roughly 200 preschoolers to join the ranks of the regular school district would be an investment. Yet, it's one many people embrace, including the early childhood education professionals at Mahube.

"Surely we can figure out how to blend the funding with various school programs, federal and state programs and childcare assistance programs," said Pigatti, who calls incorporating preschool into the public school district a "good idea."

"Our curriculum is aligned, our assessments are aligned - it puts children on that even playing field," she said.

Mahube Early Childhood Initiative coordinator Fran Rethwisch agrees, saying it can also enhance a vital element to a successful early childhood education - parental involvement.

"It's going to make them more comfortable to be able to step inside the school to become more involved in their child's education later on - it's easier, more welcoming," said Rethwisch.

Parents who have recently had children go through kindergarten can probably attest to the fact that the grade once known for teaching children how to write their names is now much more demanding.

The concepts once taught in kindergarten are now ones that students are expected to already possess entering school.

It's one reason enrollment at area preschools continue to inch up, to the point where Mahube even recently saw its enrollment temporarily go down. It was a good problem, they said, as early childhood education scholarships the state and county invest in have made it possible for low-income families to send their children to just about any preschool they want.

That prompted Mahube staff to embark on a mission to further their outreach and recruit some of those preschool aged children who were not being served anywhere.

According to Froke, 25 percent of students that entered kindergarten in Detroit Lakes this year did not receive any kind of preschool experience.

Future plans and investments aside, educators are striving now to see that number go down. It's particularly important they say, because many of the children who fall into that 25 percentile are also the ones that are considered "at risk" because of environmental factors.

"Brain development between birth and five is critical," said Rethwisch. "Their brains are developing so fast, and when children do not have some of their basic needs met -nutrition, dental, housing, health -it makes it much more difficult for them to learn when their mind is distracted on whether they're safe or where they're going to sleep."

How children are set up at an early age can often determine the trajectory of their future - whether or not they'll be a contributing asset to the community or whether they'll habitually need public assistance.

According to research, at-risk children who don't receive a high-quality early childhood education are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, 60 percent more likely to never attend college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

It's those types of statistics that keeps early childhood educators motivated to reach every last child to make sure they all have the same chances at life regardless of their circumstances.

"For children who don't have those same opportunities, we want to open the door for them," said Rethwisch.