Pre-K education: Pivotal point for republicans and democrats
Published: Monday, February 10, 2014
Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 00:02
Pre-primary education has increasingly become a political issue. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks in the bottom third in preschool education among developed countries, and the majority of Americans seem to think it’s time to improve.
Though it finds support from Republican and Democratic camps alike, the main problem public preschools face is finding funds in these cash-strapped times. Instituting public pre-primary education on a nationwide level by some estimates would cost the federal government $10 billion a year.
Some look to increasing taxation. A telephone poll conducted by the First Five Years Fund “found that 60 percent of registered Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats supported a proposal to expand public preschool by raising the federal tobacco tax,” according to Richard Pérez-Peña and Motoko Rich of the New York Times.
Politicians of every rank have used preschool issues to expand their demographics, appealing to the left and right, as well as minority advocates. Democrats have until recently been the only voices for public preschools, but as Pérez-Peña and Rich explain it, “outside Washington, it has become a bipartisan cause, uniting business groups and labor unions, with Republican governors like Rick Snyder of Michigan and Robert Bentley of Alabama pushing some of the biggest increases in preschool spending.”
There are hidden incentives; in addition to increasing economic growth and creating jobs, addressing the issue of high-quality preschool appeals “particularly to women and minorities, groups whose votes are needed by Republicans,” according to Perez-Peña and Rich.
Of course, not everyone is convinced of the need for public preschool. Oft-cited preschool studies that point to incredible benefits are subject to debate. According to Lindsey Burke, a writer for the Heritage Foundation, “the limited sample size, concentration of low-income participants, and the home-visitation component limit the usefulness of the Perry Project findings in the preschool debate.”
Skeptics point to valuable lost family time as a drawback to preschool, and some say that in most cases, any academic benefit fades after a few years. In states that have already established high-quality programs, the longitudinal data is not yet ready, and the jury is still out on long-term benefits.
In fact, according to research by economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research, the estimated benefits granted to students involved in the federally funded Head Start preschooling program “were no longer significant when measured at the end of kindergarten or first grade.”
Most states already have public preschool measures in place, although the general consensus is that more should be done in each individual state to universalize high-quality programs. Perhaps with financial incentives from the federal government, there will be enough funding for more states to enact programs. In many cases, however, the issue of preschool still rests in the community, or in private companies.
President Obama has stated that improving as well as universalizing pre-k education is a high priority for the federal government. In his 2013 State of the Union address, the President urged the public to get on board with public preschool.
“Studies show students (with high-quality preschool education) grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”
The Obama administration has established agendas, such as the Preschool for All Initiative, that aim to raise pre-k education standards in the US significantly, according to the administration’s website, whitehouse.gov.
Increasingly, politicians are making the claim that the distinction between mediocre and high-quality preschool programs correlates with a difference in future high school graduation rates, job attainment, and upward social mobility. The high-quality programs cost a great deal more, but the United States may bite the bullet and invest in this important social upgrade.