The Minnesota Reading Corps (MRC) program is a statewide AmeriCorps early literacy initiative that aims to foster emergent literacy skills of children to ensure reading proficiency by the end of grade 3. MRC and its host organization, Reading & Math, Inc. (RMI), aim to address the resource gaps within under-resourced schools by bringing AmeriCorps members into Pre-K classrooms to provide literacy enrichment for the whole class and tutoring services for specific at-risk students. An impact evaluation of the program conducted in 2013-2014 by the University of Chicago-based research center, NORC, showed positive impacts on emergent literacy outcomes for 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds (Markovitz et al., 2015). Building on the existing evidence on the program effectiveness, this study estimates the costs of providing the MRC Pre-K program that are associated with the impact measured by the 2013-2014 impact evaluation.
Rigorous economic evaluations of educational interventions provide important information about the resources neces- sary to implement a program. Such evaluations bridge the gap between knowledge on program implementation and pro- gram impact by identifying the resources utilized to generate outcomes of interest. As such, cost analyses intend to inform policymakers facing decisions to replicate or scale up a program, or trade-offs related to limited resources. Our study used the ingredients method—an approach widely applied to examine costs of educational interventions—to estimate the MRC Pre-K program’s cost (Levin, McEwan, Belfield, Bowden & Shand, 2018). We conducted interviews, surveys, and classroom observations, as well as reviews of program documents, administrative records and past research in order to collect data on all resources utilized to derive program impact based on its theory of change. Wherever important data were missing, we used a Monte Carlo simulation strategy to explore site-level variation on resource use and costs.
Overall, the costs of MRC were identified as $1.5 million per year to serve 1,261 students across twenty-five schools, or $1,210 per pupil on average. Costs were found to vary substantially by site, by ingredient category and by who bears the burden of the costs across the 25 sites evaluated. Our analyses of the distribution of who bears the costs suggest that the average cost per student per site borne by schools ranges from $680 to $210, or approximately 25% of the total costs per student. Comparable cost estimates are limited by a lack of similar Pre-K programs that have conducted both impact and cost analysis evaluations. Our study is one of the few rigorous cost analyses in Pre-K programs conducted alongside effectiveness research on a supplemental Pre-K literacy program to date. Nevertheless, these results suggest the Minnesota Reading Corps program leverages a substantial amount of resources into Pre-K classrooms in a way that feasibly distributes costs.