Universal Preschool Is a Benefit to Society

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Research on early childhood development has consistently yielded results that illustrate the benefits of a preschool and kindergarten education.
Unfortunately only 70 percent of American 4-year-olds and 40 percent of 3-year-olds attend some kind of program akin to preschool.
In Europe, on the other hand, the majority of children between the ages of 3 and 5 attend preschool in public programs. Virtually all industrialized countries, with the exception of the United States, afford families free, high-quality preschool for their children regardless of family income.
In California the only public program currently offering preschool to children is the Head Start Program, a program that enhances school readiness and promotes the well-being of children, but does not live up to standards. Head Start is a program exclusively for economically disadvantaged children and less than 20 percent of poverty-stricken families have their children enrolled. Nearly half of Head Start teachers and directors are parents, some without even a high school diploma.
Even though our federal government is involved with child-development programs like Head Start, these programs serve less than 900,000 children, more than half of whom are not even eligible. In many cases Head Start is more like child care than an educational program.
California has recognized our preschool dilemma. Should it garner enough voter approval in June, Proposition 82, known as the Preschool for All Act, is a California initiative that would provide free and universal preschool for all 4-year-old children. Supporters realize our current preschool framework is embarrassingly flawed.
Much of the United States is literally in a preschool crisis as families are placed on waiting lists while their kids go without educational services. The California initiative would alleviate this problem in our state.
The Preschool for All Act would provide a free, partial-day voluntary preschool for California Children.
According to Rob Reiner, chairman of Parent’s Action for children, the preschool services would be delivered through public schools, charter schools as well as nonprofit and for-profit child care providers that meet statewide quality standards.
To pay for the program, California would increase the tax rate on the wealthiest by roughly 1 percent on the annual income they earn.
The wealthiest 1 percent received an average tax cut of $77,000 from the federal government last year and would be giving less than $9,000 of that tax cut back to support the program.
Proposition 82 acknowledges that the program’s success will depend upon placing a well-trained teacher in every preschool classroom.
Preschool teachers, over time, are required to have credentials similar to those in the K-12 system, and to be equally compensated. The program also provides financial aid for existing preschool teachers to earn bachelors degrees and training in early childhood development for the Early Learning Credential.
Critics of the voter initiative argue that providing universal preschool is costly. Free preschool would indeed cost the United States roughly about $30 billion a year. Nonetheless, preschool in California could be funded by lottery, taxes and federal grants.
Moreover, critics of the plan should be aware that preschool would positively benefit the economy over time. According to a report by the RAND Corporation, California would get $2.62 back for every dollar invested in preschool.
Several other reports have demonstrated that investments in preschool will generate positive returns as children who have the chance to go to quality preschool are more likely to read by the time they reach third grade, less likely to be placed in special education or held back in school, more likely to graduate high school and go to college, less likely to be arrested or jailed and more likely to support themselves as adults.
While Head Start Programs do not provide equal access, the California Initiative would allow middle-income families who are hit the hardest by the high cost of preschool to send their children to a high-quality program.
Wealthy parents are well-aware of the benefits of early childhood education and have the resources to send their children to preschool programs. Preschool should not be an exclusive program for the dreadfully poor or extremely rich. It should be an opportunity for every child.

Reut R. Cohen is a second-year English major. She can be reached at rabudi@uci.edu.

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