One of the more ambitious proposals President Barack Obama made during his most recent State of the Union address was the proposal to work with states to make “high-quality preschool available to every single child in America,” arguing that investing in early childhood education can save money down the road by improving graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy and “even reducing violent crime.” While the idea of providing preschool may seem new, it isn’t. The New York Times columnist Gail Collins recently noted that in 1971, then-Sen. Walter Mondale of Minnesota led a congressional effort to make quality preschool available to every family in the country. The plan was ultimately vetoed by President Richard Nixon, but research since then has shown the advantages quality preschool can provide.
In 2011, USA Today published an article describing a study that followed participants until they were 26. The study showed that “each dollar spent on Chicago-based, federally funded Child-Parent Centers generates $4 to $11 in return” because the participants earned more and were less likely to be held back in school or involved with drugs.
One of the hurdles with providing universal preschool is its massive expense, at least initially. A lot of money would have to be invested, and the potential benefits wouldn’t come until decades later. Another hurdle is ensuring quality. Head Start, a federally funded preschool program for low-income families, has had dismal results. Each state would have to have its own approach so that various ways of providing preschool could be tested.
The current state of American education is terrible. Millions of children grow up with poor social skills and small vocabularies. Convention remedies, such as simply increasing funding, aren’t working. The benefits universal preschool could provide are worth working toward.
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