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

school implementationIn my exploration into this topic, I wanted to delve a little more into how it is being implemented in other areas, and now that their programs are up and running, what the outcomes have been.

New York City implemented their universal preschool plan in the Fall of 2014.  I want to examine some of the questions that may be on our minds.

How did they fund universal preschool?

By creating an additional 10% income tax on the highest earners.

Who can offer universal preschool?

Public schools, private schools, private child care centers, family child care providers, and group family child care providers.

Which children are eligible for universal preschool?

At the beginning in 2014, four year olds from low income families were supposed to be given preference, totaling about 53,604.  Although, it looks like the City of New York missed the mark initially, as more middle income families were receiving universal preschool than the lower income families the program was created for (see more on this here:

They were hoping to raise this to 73,250  children enrolling in the 2015-2016 school year.  The plan was to increase the program until it was available to all four year olds and they did meet that goal at the beginning of the 2015 school year.

When it comes to enrollment, low income families are often given priority so that centers can meet their universal preschool enrollment quota to retain their funding.  This now can make it more difficult for middle income families to find care and education for their children.

What do parents have to pay?

The 2.5 hours per day that is deemed as “preschool time” is free.  Parents have to pay for any care before or after that time.

How does an established child care become part of the universal preschool program?

Fill out paperwork, submit a proposal describing your program and how much you will charge families for out-of-school time.  Create a budget with three year projections.  Include how many families currently eligible for universal pre-k you will be able to enroll (this will affect how much funding you receive).  Provide teacher qualifications (in New York City, one certified teacher with a bachelor’s degree and two teacher’s aides with at least a high school diploma and 6 college credits for every twenty children.  The certified teacher can be the director, as long as the director instructs the 2.5 preschool hours each day.

What is the universal preschool program schedule?

The universal preschool program is split into Fall only enrollment and Summer only enrollment.

Do universal preschools have access to district facilities (libraries, gyms), or district training days for their staff?

This is not established in the current program, and can be decided by individual school districts, and schools within that district.

Do teachers receive the same pay and benefits as school district teachers?

No.  It is up to the private employer to provide pay and benefit arrangements.  I feel this is an important one to point out, because just as many parents think universal preschool will mean completely free child care, many preschool teachers think universal preschool will mean pay matched to school districts, and the retirement/paid leave/sick leave/ health insurance offered.  This is not necessarily the case.

Do parents have to enroll their child in a preschool that is within their school district?

In New York, this is decided on a case by case basis by their school district.  For us in Rapid City, this means that districts will decide whether we are allowed to enroll students from the Rapid City Area School District and the Douglas School District for an example.

Can private religious organizations receive funding for universal preschool?

Yes, but there must not be anything visible to students that could be considered a religious item.

There are many great facets to the universal preschool plan in New York City.  Centers can apply for grants up to $10,000 for program quality improvement.  These funds are allocated for improving and repairing existing programs, but not as initial capital.  They also implemented a limited number of $2000.00 Child Care Professional Retention grants, in order to encourage certified teachers to switch to early childhood education.

If universal preschool is something that is going to be adopted, it is going to be very important for state governments to have a say in the process.  Something that is functional in New York City might not work here.

A state income tax (even only for the highest earners) will not yield the same results, as I’m willing to bet the majority of our highest earners aren’t billionaires.

Trying to mandate that every classroom have a bachelor degree certified teacher will be very difficult in a state that is already rapidly losing our teachers due to low pay.

With making community based, faith based, and private based centers left to pick up the tab for the majority of at least $30,000 a year salaries with benefits for certified teachers, we will have to raise our rates. Even though the portion of the day that is “universal pre k” would be subsidized, we have to figure out how to pay the gap.  Another option is for centers to provide drop off and pick up services for students to qualified universal preschool centers and then provide the rest of the day’s care and education.

With a plan like New York or Oklahoma, thousands of teachers already in the early childhood education classrooms would be left with three choices. First, they could become a teacher’s aide until they can earn a bachelor’s degree. Second, they would only be able to instruct children under the age of three.   Finally, they can leave the field of early childhood education altogether.

The Child Development Associate program was supposed to have been developed to bridge the gap of education for early childhood educators.  If South Dakota develops a universal preschool program, there has to be a way for those with CDA certificates to remain in their classrooms.

We have to be aware of what is changing around us so we can be part of a practical implementation process in our state.  Community members, educators, and parents must be proactive about how this legislation would be formulated.

As always, thank you for reading Education Plantation.  I hope you will take the information provided here to your staff, your community, and your professional organizations.  We all have to be advocates for early childhood education.

If you wish you can leave a comment here or email me at We need to communicate and give feedback on what is practical for our state.

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

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