Education Wednesday: A Case for Universal Preschool

This year there has been a strong national focus on expanding access to quality early childhood education for all students. Earlier this year in the State of the Union Address, President Obama placed more emphasis on pre-kindergarten programs, particularly as an intervention for closing persistent achievement gaps along socioeconomic lines. As more state and local leaders are waking up to the important role early childhood learning can play in changing the circumstances of a child’s life,  the case is being made for why America is ready for universal preschool.


America is ready for universal preschool because as a country, we are currently missing a huge opportunity to put more students on the path to later academic achievement. As I mention in Education Wednesday: Why Early Childhood Education Matters to Niños, high-quality early childhood education can yield benefits such as lower tendencies to repeat grades and less need for special education. Studies find that participating in preschool programs can even decrease the future likelihood of teen pregnancy and run-ins with the law, which disproportionately affect low-income and minority students

Far too many low-income and minority students still struggle to access vital early learning programs at the same rate as their peers. In 2012 a staggering 40% of kids in the U.S. ages 3 to 5 years old were not enrolled in a certified preschool program. African American and Latino students were among the least likely to be enrolled. Currently, a whopping 10 states or 1/5 of the country do not offer any sort of state-funded program, and many more only offer spaces to our most low-income families. As the cost of quality preschool programs can be a burden to even well-off middle-class families, state-funded programs would improve accessibility for all students.

While critics still question the long term benefits of early childhood education, there is no denying that quality education can level the playing field for all students to succeed in life.

Aundrea's 3 Reasons Why A Universal Preschool Program is Necessary 

  1. Mandatory teacher certifications: As preschool is one of the most formative times in a child's life, it is important to have certified teacher who have been trained to actively engage our young ones. Currently, no national mandate exists to regulate whether or not a child care provider has the proper credentials to work with students. Any private early learning center could potentially just be an expensive babysitter. A universal program would offer a chance for an even distribution of qualified teachers.

  2. Streamlined learning curriculums: Unfortunately, not all early learning programs are created equal. Just because your student attends a form of preschool does not mean she is developing the skills she needs to thrive later in her education. Effective early learning programs focus on developing kids' social and cognitive abilities. Where no curricula exists, a high-quality state-backed program would boost learning for students.

  3. States Save Money: Critics argue that states will have to shoulder too much financially if they take on the responsibility of providing widespread access. Yet, as students who participate in preschool programs are less likely to utilize welfare benefits and, as I mentioned above, have legal troubles, states save in the long-run when they make the hefty upfront investment in pre-kindergarten programs. In fact, as PBS News reports, states see more return on their investment as students become engaged parents, working adults, and tax-paying citizens.


Mayor Bill De Blasio recently announced a multi-million dollar initiative to roll-out a free universal pre-kindergarten program in New York City. This initiative will bring new early learning opportunities to families across the Big Apple and serve as an important example to other states. Despite the initial defeat of his 2015 budget proposal, President Obama and Democratic party leaders are also continuing to push hard for an additional billion dollars in funding to improve access to early childhood education programs across the county.

Universal access to high-quality early childhood education is vital to giving every student an equal start in life and eliminating persistent educational deficiencies.

No child should be left behind before beginning.

As states across the country continue to work out how they will facilitate better access to quality preschool programs, we as parents teachers, and  mentors, must continue to advocate for the education our students deserve.

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Is your state expanding access to early childhood education?