The Cost of Universal Preschool: Part Two, What Works, What Doesn’t

What is Universal Preschool?

According to the NAEYC, the term universal preschool means that pre-K programs are available to any child in a given state, regardless of family income, children’s abilities, or other factors. Several states are on the path to funding universal preschool.

Before anyone views universal preschool as free child care for all, it is important to consider that the preschool year is being based off of what is considered a traditional preschool schedule.  This means that it is typically only offered half days, nine months out of the year, and generally is only available to four year olds (although is extended to three year olds in some areas).  With South Dakota high ranking for number of parents who are both working, we have to consider how the “out of school time” would be handled.

Where can I find examples of universal preschool?

So far the only states to have adopted universal preschool are Florida, Oklahoma, and Georgia, although there are several other states with phase in programs underway.  There are also individual cities who have adopted these programs such as New York, Denver, and Seattle, among others.

What is working so far in universal preschool?

There are many benefits to universal preschool, one of which making preschool education for children affordable for low income families.  Another is raising standards, because generally teachers in publicly funded preschool have to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and all assistant teachers must have a CDA.  It also has guidelines for assessments of students and teachers.

What Georgia does: Georgia has many guidelines that must be met, but they make the information easy to access.  One component I appreciated about their lead teacher training requirements is that they grandfathered in lead teachers with associate’s degrees.  If they were already employed as lead teachers, then they could remain so, but all newly hired instructors were required to hold bachelor’s degrees.

What Oklahoma does: Oklahoma has the highest rate of universal pre-k enrollment at 74%.  They are helping working families too because they offer full day and half day programs (they do remain however at the traditional nine month enrollment plan).   Oklahoma only offers universal preschool through the public school district, there is no collaboration or partnership with privately owned preschools.

What Florida does: Florida does not have the same stringent guidelines as Oklahoma and Georgia.  They run on two different schedules, a summer program or a fall program.  Students attend preschool for three hours per day, and 80% of these programs are administered through already existing private child care programs, therefore removing the “middle man” of having to transport the majority of children to full day child care centers.  In my opinion, Florida also makes this transition easier by requiring fall semester preschool teachers to be CDA certified (although they do require a bachelor’s degree for teacher’s in the summer semester).

What challenges need to be addressed?

There are opposing views as to whether or not preschool has long term effects past the third grade.  There are studies that show the positive effects of preschool begin to drop off at this time, while there are other studies that show a life long correlation between a lifelong likelihood to avoid incarceration if you attended preschool.  I am a preschool owner, and so I clearly am strongly invested in the long term benefits of preschool education.  As a side note, I would think there would be a point in a child’s education when the baton would be passed so that preschool instructors weren’t held accountable for a child’s success in school forevermore but maybe I’m interpreting that statistic incorrectly.

Critics of prekindergarten programs attached to K-12 schools have worried that such programs could become too focused on building academic skills in developmentally inappropriate ways. Many of us are already aware of the increase in standardized testing in elementary schools. Drilling young children in their letters and numbers has actually been found to be counter-productive. Research shows that while children taught by drill do better on early assessments, they don’t remember what they learn as long as children who are taught primarily through hands-on, play-based activities.

Publicly funded preschool can widen the expense gap for those in the middle class, and the additional training requirements can push out experienced preschool instructors who don’t meet educational requirements.  This results in two things, private child care centers have to hire teachers with more formal education (good for families) but have to increase their rates to accommodate higher salaries for teachers (bad for families).  This also has the potential to leave experienced teachers out in the cold, unable to work in a profession they’ve dedicated their lives to.

If universal preschool is adapted nationwide, where will the bachelor degree teachers come from?  One article suggests “Late elementary and secondary school teachers could also find themselves at the preschool door, depending on state certification policies and union and district practices, which might include moving less effective teachers of older children to “non-testing” age groups.” Does this mean a high school chemistry teacher whose students can’t meet standardized testing requirements will be bumped down to what is perceived to be the “easy” task of instructing preschoolers?  This train of thought is so counter intuitive I don’t know why it would ever even be entertained.

Additionally, here’s what wikipedia has to say:

  • Assessment of program outcomes has been difficult, largely due to the lack of data and newness of universal preschool around the nation. Studies in the US have not fully demonstrated the long term benefit of preschool to middle income children.
  • Critics have charged that the costs of universal pre-k could rise. Since the term “universal” means access for all children, the cost varies in proportional to the expected contribution by parents in addition to state funding, the number of hours for which a state provide funding, and whether qualifying programs have enough slots for all children.
  • Since quality requirements stipulate certain standards, not all pre-k programs, especially those in private settings, are eligible. There remains a controversy about whether private providers will be driven out of business if local public schools offer full-day, tuition-free programs.
  • Critics charge that where high quality publicly funded pre-k slots are limited, waiting lists can result in disadvantaged children competing with higher income children for preschool access. Some states provide an additional amount of tuition to help offset the special needs of at-risk children.
  • Although no state mandates participation in programs, and even though some states provide funding for home-based pre-k programs, some conservatives argue that the responsibility for care and learning before kindergarten belongs solely to parents.
  • In some states teachers unions are working with pre-k teachers to create early education unions, to allow for bargaining with state on pre-k reimbursements. At the same time, some teachers unions have opposed siting pre-k programs in private centers and homes, as a drain of public education resources and a potential open-door to school vouchers.

For more information on universal preschool click here, or check out the many resource links included in this article!

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation.  Be sure to come back for the following topics addressing The Cost of Universal Preschool.

Part One: The Cost of Universal Preschool, Examining School Districts

Part Two: The Cost of Universal Preschool, What Works, and What Doesn’t

Part Three: The Cost of Universal Preschool, Implications of Implementation

Part Four: The Cost of Universal Preschool, Words from an Expert

Please leave comments and feedback.  This is an issue that should be very important to all of us, owners, directors, teachers, parents, and tax payers.

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