studies showing that
participation in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs yields long-lasting academic
and social benefits, especially for low-income children, many families still lack
access to adequate early childhood education programs. The majority of preschoolers
who are enrolled are in private programs, whose availability and quality varies
with location and parental income. Although the federal Head Start program has
grown over the last decade, the program cannot reach all eligible children. Moreover,
the minimal education requirements and low pay afforded to Head Start teachers
makes it difficult to recruit qualified instructors, which undermines the program's
effectiveness. The responsibility for bridging this gap has been left primarily
to the states, whose policies vary widely in the scope and quality of the programs
Benefits and Cost Savings
policymakers harbor real doubts about the immediate benefits of participation
in pre-kindergarten programs, which include increased school readiness, improved
social skills, and early identification of special needs students. However, the
price tag for any large-scale preschool program is bound to be substantial, which
raises the question: do the benefits of early childhood education justify the
research has attempted to answer this question and has found that pre-kindergarten
produces long-term academic and social gains, as well as economic gains that more
than offset its cost:
Child Parent Center study found that low-income children who participated
in an early intervention preschool program had higher levels of academic achievement
in high school, were less likely to be held back a grade or require special education,
and experienced lower rates of juvenile delinquency. The study estimated that
a half-day pre-kindergarten program created $48,000 in economic benefits per child
by decreasing the need for remedial education, reducing justice system expenditures,
and increasing participants' projected future earnings and tax revenues.
At age 27, participants in the Perry
Preschool project, which targeted very low-income minority youth, were less
likely to have been arrested, earned higher salaries on average, and had fewer
out-of-wedlock births than non-participants. The researchers concluded that the
two-year, half-day program produced $108,000 in benefits to society per child.
studies have helped advocates persuade some politicians and business leaders to
promote universal pre-kindergarten as a worthwhile economic investment.
to Preschool Varies by State
research has led to an increased awareness of the potential benefits of early
childhood education, access to affordable programs remains uneven. Currently,
40 states fund some type of preschool program, but only Georgia,
Oklahoma, and the District of Columbia
have established universal pre-kindergarten. A few other states, including Louisiana,
York, and West Virginia have taken
steps toward developing universal programs.
remaining states apply various eligibility criteria to families hoping to participate
in the program; usually low-income children or those at risk of academic failure
qualify, those who benefit the most. The standards used to admit children to these
programs are inconsistent, and many children who would be eligible for pre-kindergarten
in one state are ineligible in another.
addition, states vary widely in the proportion of communities that are able to
offer preschool programs. In a few states, virtually every district has a pre-kindergarten
program, while in other states, only a few do.
is Key to Children's Success
programs are required in order for preschool attendance to produce positive effects.
Today, the quality of many programs is too low to generate lasting academic and
agree that certain factors directly affect the quality of pre-kindergarten programs:
Sufficient education among teachers and staff-teachers should have bachelor's
degrees in early childhood education.
Adequate compensation for teachers and staff-teachers should have salaries similar
to K-12 educators.
Low child-staff ratios and appropriate group sizes.
Adequate, well-equipped facilities.
the degree of access, the quality standards for public preschool programs vary
widely from state to state. Teacher qualification and compensation are the most
pressing of these quality issues: less than half of state-funded pre-kindergarten
programs require teachers to hold a bachelor's degree, and salaries are generally
very low. Also, relatively few states employ comprehensive curriculum standards.
Overall, disadvantaged children, who may benefit most from an effective program,
are more likely to attend a low-quality preschool.
of the benefits of quality early childhood education is on the rise among policymakers,
and leaders in several states are currently debating or working toward establishing
universal pre-kindergarten programs.
Says Preschool Pays Big Dividends
leaders and representatives of financial institutions, who have come to see preschool
programs as wise investments for the nation's future, support these efforts. For
In March 2003, the Federal
Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Minn. published
an article asking the state government to create an early childhood education
foundation to fund pre-kindergarten programs for all of the state's 3- and 4-year-olds.
The article's authors say investing in a quality preschool program can create
a 12% annual return, after inflation.
In May 2003, the Business
Roundtable, an association of CEOs from leading U.S. corporations, released
paper advocating strong federal and state commitments to pre-kindergarten
programs. The group concluded that such a commitment is crucial to the success
of efforts to improve public education and to strengthen the workforce.
Find Preschool Essential
courts have also expressed the conviction that access to quality preschool programs
is necessary to improve educational opportunity, especially for disadvantaged
students. The first court-ordered early childhood education program was
established in New Jersey as part
of the landmark school funding case Abbott
v. Burke. In 1998, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the state
to implement full-day preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds in
disadvantaged school districts known as Abbott districts. In 2002-2003,
the programs served over 36,000 children.
recent decisions in state school funding cases have also articulated the importance
of pre-kindergarten programs:
In October 2000, the North Carolina trial court, in Hoke
County v. State, ordered funding for pre-kindergarten programs for all
In December 2003, the District Court of Shawnee County, Kansas, declared the state's
school funding system unconstitutional in Montoy
v. State. The court noted with approval the testimony of Kansas educators
who recommended a comprehensive preschool program as part of the state's strategy
for improving education outcomes for the most challenging students.
In February 2004, the Arkansas Supreme Court appointed
two special masters to evaluate the state's compliance with the court's November
2002 decision declaring the state's school finance system unconstitutional. The
special masters' April 2004
report indicated that the state cannot offer a "substantially equal educational
opportunity," the constitutional standard, without preschool programs for
National Institute for Early Education
Research releases an annual State
of Preschool Yearbook , which includes information about programs in all 50
states. NIEER also provides extensive state-by-state
information in its online state databank.
Childhood Education Initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts supports the development
of high-quality early education programs. The initiative led to the creation of
the Trust for Early
Education, which works at the state and federal levels to advocate for universal
Childhood Focus provides the latest news items related to early childhood
National Association for the Education
of Young Children is the largest organization of early childhood educators
in the United States.
Center for Early Development and Learning is a national early childhood education
research department supported by the U.S.
Department of Education's Institute for Educational Sciences.
at 3 is an advocacy project of New
Jersey's Education Law Center that aims to establish a legal right to early
childhood education. The project provides direct technical assistance to attorneys
and advocates involved in litigation asserting the right to preschool education.