During President Obama’s state of the union address last week, he unveiled his plans to expand pre-kindergarten for four-year-old children from low- and moderate-income families. He stated, "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on—by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime."
According to the report released by the Center for American Progress, Obama’s assertions are correct. Without high quality early childhood education at-risk children are:
- 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
- 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent
- 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education
- 60 percent more likely never to attend college
- 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime
Why exactly is pre-kindergarten so beneficial? First it would improve the lives of millions of mothers and fathers and single parent homes by removing the financial burden of financing childcare. Families spend an average of 10% of their household budget on child care. For low-income parents it can be as much as 50% of their total income. Secondly, investing in children’s education will strengthen America’s human capital, as the first five years of a child’s life are the most formative, cognitively and emotionally. Enhanced human capital results in improved economic growth, increased revenue and decreases in future spending obligation. Lastly, investment in early education could counter the effects of growing economic inequality and decreased rates of upward mobility. An increasingly number of children are being raised by single parents, earning one paycheck. One income, instead of two, makes it even more difficult to pay for pre-kindergarten education. Study after study has indicated that investing in children early can result in greater impact at less cost, or in other words, a greater return on investment.
Despite these benefits, there are many shortcomings to the current piecemeal delivery and funding system of pre-kindergarten education. Funding narrowly targets specific initiatives and in doing so makes it difficult for providers to track involvement, the use of funds, and the effectiveness of the program. Many are recommending a program that streamlines federal education initiatives.
Others question if education funding should be directed at pre-kindergarten or if it would be better to spend on other programs or initiatives like teacher’s professional development.
The coming weeks and months should reveal how the Obama Administration plans to expand pre-kindergarten in America.
For more information about pre-kindergarten, read “Investing in Our Children” from the Center for American Progress or “Federal Grant Prospect Reignites Kindergarten Assessment Debate” from Education Week.