Universal preschool is an international movement to use public funding to ensure high quality preschool (pre-k) is available to all families.
Publicly Funded Preschool In The US
Citing international and domestic research showing a benefit to children from low and middle income families both in the short and long term, the movement to advance publicly funded pre-k has resulted in the successful passage of pre-k enabling legislation in 44 states in the US. While some funding legislation for pre-k has been passed on the federal level, including the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, much of the advocacy focuses on building broad support from diverse leaders in business, child activists, educators, philanthropists, law enforcement, and healthcare to lobby state legislatures.
States use public dollars to fund pre-k programs in a variety of settings, including public schools, private non-profit and for-profit centers, and in regulated home childcare. Typically states fund preschool for three-, four-, and five-year-old children who have missed a cut-off date for enrollment in kindergarten. The hours range from 10 hours per week in Vermont, to full day programs in other states. Funding mechanisms vary as well, with some state utilizing a state budget line item versus a local budget appropriation.
While variations in implementation are numerous, state-funded pre-k consistently offer programs on a voluntary basis for children and families, unlike compulsory elementary, which is mandated by law with exceptions to allow for homeschooling and alternative education. Variations include how states deal with the following pre-k implementation elements:
- age of children eligible for the service of preschool (usually three-, four-, or five-year-olds, but sometimes only four-year-olds),
- wrap-around services, including whether special supports such as home visiting, and playgroups are provided to support children from at-risk families,
- full-day versus part-day pre-k, and whether programs should be offered year-round or only during the school year,
- role of parents in paying for part of their child's pre-k tuition,
- quality requirements for state-funded programs, including requirements for teacher education and preparation, class size, teacher to child ratios, and the use of evidence-based curriculum,
- whether universal state-funded programs should be provided in the existing diverse delivery system for early childhood programs (including Headstart, public schools, non-profit and for-profit centers, programs hosted by churches that are non-religious, or in home settings such as regulated family day care).
Supporters of publicly funded preschool for all children cite research that shows:
- Because the brain is developing rapidly during the early years, stimulation from high quality preschool can support the development of neurologic pathways that serve a child in lifelong learning,
- Longitudinal studies (Abecedarian, Chicago Parent Child Centers, and the Perry Preschool Project) show significant longterm benefits for children who attend preschool, including improved health, social and behavioral outcomes, and well as higher income than the control group.
- Advocates for those in poverty cite research related to the achievement gap, where many at-risk children start out behind in school for a variety of reasons and never catch up. Pre-k programs help to eliminate this gap.
- Business organizations cite the need for pre-k to improve school-readiness and literacy by age nine, in order to impact universal achievement of all children.
- The Information below was provided by: DLC | Model Initiatives | July 20, 2006
- Studies of high-quality preschool programs in North Carolina and Michigan have found that public investments in such programs could, in fact, deliver a 7-to-1 return in the long run, in the form of increased productivity and decreased social spending.
- A University of Georgia study found that the pre-k students improved their school readiness scores relative to national norms. It also found that the pre-k system eliminated the skills gap between universal pre-K students and the more affluent students whose parents sent them to private programs.
- A Georgetown University study found gains in the children's cognitive and language assessment scores from the Oklahoma pre-k program—particularly among African-American and Hispanic children, whose scores improved by an average of 17 percent and 54 percent, respectively. As of 2006, 98 percent of Oklahoma school districts offer pre-k programs, up 30 percent since 1998.
Source: Universal Preschool