Universal Pre-K Not as Easy as A, B, C

Across the country local jurisdictions  looking to expand pre-k education are finding it difficult to fund and establish “universal” programs.

As reported by Governing:

San Antonio isn’t alone in its focus on pre-K. A handful of states are pumping funds into expanded pre-kindergarten programs, with varying degrees of success and commitment. Several cities have opted to fund a more rigorous pre-K program than state funding provides. But while universal pre-K is widely admired, the prevalence of well-funded and enriching programs is highly uneven across the U.S. In 2014, of the 40 states plus the District of Columbia with state-funded pre-K programs, only nine served more than half of all 4-year-olds in the state, and 11 served less than 10 percent, according to a report in U.S. News. Overall, only “a smattering of states have dedicated time and resources to expanding pre-K programs,” says Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). “Even fewer have made it a priority through the years.”

Over the past half century, states’ interest in early education has waxed and waned. Although funding faltered during the Great Recession, states overall have been increasing their investments in pre-K programs during the past 20 years. The investments are generally popular with the public: Several studies have shown that pre-kindergarten can help kids from different cultural backgrounds and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods enter kindergarten on a level playing field with their more affluent, mainstream peers. At the same time, there has been flagging interest in some states as questions have been raised about how effective the programs are in the long run.

As more states and cities implement universal pre-K programs, they’re confronting basic questions of funding: Who will pay for it and how? But there are broader, thornier questions as well. Is high-quality universal pre-kindergarten an affordable and achievable goal? Do these programs actually accomplish what their advocates hope? So far, in the states and cities that have moved forward with pre-K programs, the answers seem to range from “absolutely” to “not so sure.”

Only three states — Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma — have what could be called truly universal programs in that they’re available to all 4-year-olds, regardless of parental income. The three states offer examples of the different ways in which the program’s funding source can affect its future.

While most state programs call themselves universal, it’s really a catch-all term with a range of meanings — from truly universal pre-K for all children regardless of parental income, to pre-K for all low-income families, to pre-K programs contingent on how much the state budget can afford that year.

For more information read the full article on  Governing