Universal high-quality preschool pays off

By Opinions Editor

Presidential campaign education platforms primarily focus on college tuition and student debt. However, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders support the implementation of universal prekindergarten education, which would increase access to high-quality preschool education to families of all socioeconomic backgrounds. In the past, preschool has been out of reach for lower-income children, as private preschools are expensive and public programs are limited. State-funded preschool is available in 40 states and the District of Columbia, but only three in 10 of the nation’s 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality prekindergarten program, according to the White House’s website. 

Making high-quality, rather than low-quality, preschool accessible makes a difference. In high-quality preschools, student growth is emphasized through small adult-to-child ratios, qualified staff and curricula centered around activities like art and play. Low-quality preschools frequently receive little funding from the state, leading to weak curricula and inadequate teachers, according to an April 2014 NPR article titled “What Exactly Is High-Quality Preschool?”   

Through President Barack Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative, federal funding would be allocated to states whose early childhood education meets standards ensuring teachers are well-trained, and the curricula will set up young students for success. However, Obama’s term will come to a close in just more than a year. It is critical the next president supports universal preschool and will work with Congress to enact the “Preschool for All” initiative.

High-quality and accessible preschool programs have been successful in New Jersey, Georgia and Oklahoma school districts. In these districts, lower-income students who had access to high-quality preschool demonstrated more advanced proficiencies in math and English, compared to lower-income students who did not. 

The benefits of expanding preschool accessibility go beyond narrowing the gap of economic disadvantage for children. The Chicago Longitudinal Study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, found that 900 students who had participated in early childhood education programs were less likely to be arrested or jailed later in life, proving that high-quality preschool has benefits beyond higher standardized test scores. 

Because of the decreased crime rates, society was saved nearly $11—which would have gone toward law enforcement and incarceration costs—for every dollar invested in the children’s education, according to an analysis by the Society for Research in Child Development. Two similar long-term studies, the Abcedarian Project and the Perry Preschool Project, revealed similar statistics and savings. 

Sending every 4-year-old to a high-quality preschool may be expensive, but its long-term benefits would far exceed any debt. America should be constantly working toward a more just society, and investing in the education of each child through universal preschool is the most strategic way to eliminate socioeconomic disadvantages before students can even write their names.