Stateside Dispatch  [Printer-friendly version]
July 31, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: All across the U.S., people are taking action
to prevent life-long problems for children by helping them get a good
educational start in life.]

This past week, Illinois Governor Blagojevich signed the first law in
the nation that establishes the goal of universally-available public
preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds in that state.

As a first step, the legislature this year set aside $45 million in
additional funding to open up 10,000 new slots with a priority for
children with language barriers, developmental disabilities and
middle-income families earning less than four times the poverty rate
-- up to $80,000 per year for a family of four. In the last four
years, Illinois had already increased funding for preschool by $90
million, so this was the natural next step.

Currently, federal and state dollars in Illinois pay for preschool for
130,000 low-income or academically "at risk" Illinois children, but
the new law aims to make pre-K available regardless of income, with
the goal of enrolling 190,000 children in publicly-funded preschool by

"This is a bill that can raise the bar for the rest of the country,"
said Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a Harvard professor of pediatrics and
national child development expert, in an interview with the Chicago
Sun Times.

Universal Pre-K: An Emerging Trend

Illinois' new law is just part of a trend in recent years of expanding
pre-K in the states; in 2005, state lawmakers increased pre-K funding
by $600 million across 26 states, adding 180,000 more children to pre-
school rolls around the country.

And the increased commitments to pre-K continued this year. As just
one example, Tennessee announced that it will add 227 new pre-K
classes to serve 5000 "at risk" 4-year-olds statewide, bringing the
state total to 13,500, funded by a combination of state lottery and
general revenues.

Still, most families across the country either have to pay for private
programs or do without preschool for their kids, since fewer than 10
percent of 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide are in state-funded preschool
programs. Because of this, states are increasingly moving towards
integrating existing preschool programs into a more universal pre-K
program that is seen as an extension of the overall K-12 public
education system. In creating its goal of universal pre-K, Illinois is
joining Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma as states with statewide
preschool programs.

And other states are looking to join these pioneers; while California
voters did not support a recent pre-K ballot initiative (partly, some
analysts believe, because of general ballot initiative fatigue), the
legislature did support a substantial expansion of preschool funds.
And new Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has announced the goal of
universal preschool for every 4-year old in that state, although the
plan is not likely to be introduced until 2008 after a commission
established by the governor comes back with recommendations on the
best way to design and fund the program.

Why Universal Pre-K?

Three simple reasons explain this turn to universal pre-K:

** the desire for greater equity in our educational system

** the clear economic returns to society from investing in early

** the need to lift the financial burden on parents

Educational Equity: Since research increasingly shows that early
education provides children with the skills necessary for later school
success, most analysts see broadly-accessible preschool as critical
for giving all children an equal educational opportunity. A study by
NIEER of pre-K programs in five states -- Michigan, New Jersey,
Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia -- found that children in
those states had clear gains in early language, literacy, and
mathematical development. A more recent study of the Oklahoma pre-K
program found across-the board gains from preschool for all socio-
economic groups. Significantly, the Oklahoma study indicated that
lower-income children gained more benefits when programs included
middle-income children-- a strong argument for more universal
preschool programs that bring children together from all communities.

Economic Returns: And if the returns to the children are clear, so are
the economic returns to states investing in them. Just last week, a
major study, The Economic Promise of Investing in High Quality
Preschool, released by the business-backed Committee for Economic
Development at a DC conference, highlighted research that every dollar
invested in preschool is expected to yield $2 to $4 in future societal
benefits, including savings for states from less crime and lower
remedial educational costs down the road.

Easing Financial Burden on Parents: One key benefit of preschool
programs are that they ease the financial burden on parents of paying
for child care and preschool programs themselves-- and making sure
that working families are forced to put their kids in substandard and
potentially unsafe care situations out of financial desperation. A
recent study found that families with a 4-year-old spend an average
of $3,016 to $9,628 a year in child care fees-- roughly 10% of median
household incomes and an even higher percentage for many lower-income
working families. While pre-K doesn't solve all those child care
issues, it can play a significant role in easing the burden and can
provide a real alternative to often substandard child care options
available in many communities.

Models for Universal Pre-K

The Oklahoma Preschool Program is the longest standing state pre-K
program and has achieved the highest percentage of 4-year olds in
publicly-funded preschool in the country. The link above highlights
key statutory provisions on defining eligibility, the responsibility
of local school boards, and the creation of both curriculum and
teacher certification standards for the pre-K program.

Senate Bill 1497, the Illinois Preschool for All law, doesn't create
a similar right by Illinois children to pre-K education yet, but
instead specifies a grant program for local school systems to expand
their preschool programs, along with guidelines for the state Board of
Education to assist in the expansion of the program to achieve the
goal of universal access in coming years as funding expands.

The legal organization, Starting at 3, has a state-by-state
breakdown of statutes and the legal context for pre-K systems in
different states, while the Economic Commission of the States tracks
ongoing legislative developments. The Commission also has a
searchable database of program characteristics from different

Pre[k]now put out a recent report, Funding the Future, outlining the
different ways states are funding their pre-K programs.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) issued two recent
reports, Missed Opportunities on how states can better use Title I
funds from the No Child Left Behind Act to fund preschool, and All
Together Now on how states are integrating community-based child care
centers into their pre-K programs.

Universal Pre-Kindergarten Organizations Supporting Pre-K

pre[k]now -- advocacy center for pre-K

Starting at 3 -- legal center focused on preschool funding

Economic Commission of the States -- provides education news and
assistance to state on education issues

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)-
nation's largest organization of early childhood educators

CLASP -- national non-profit focused on the needs of low-income

Preschool California -- state group with range of resources on pre-K

Legislation and Models for Pre-K

Oklahoma Preschool Program

Senate Bill 1497, the Illinois Preschool for All law

Starting at 3 has a state-by-state breakdown of statutes and the
legal context for state pre-K systems

Economic Commission of the States tracks ongoing legislative

Reports and Studies

The Institute for Women's Policy Research: The Price of School
Readiness: A Tool for Estimating the Cost of Universal Preschool in
the States- reports built around a model for measuring costs of
implementing pre-K

Pre[k]now, Funding the Future on funding pre-K

CLASP's Missed Opportunities on using Title I funds from NCNL to
fund preschool and All Together Now on integrating community-based
child care centers into pre-K.

American Business Leaders' Views on Publicly-funded Pre-Kindergarten
and the Advantages to the Economy details polling by Zogby

NIEER: The Effects of State Prekindergarten Programs on Young
Children's School Readiness in Five States

The Effects of Universal Pre-K on Cognitive Development -- study
done at Georgetown University

Committee for Economic Development: The Economic Promise of Investing
in High Quality Preschool Preschool gets record boost in '05

Copyright 2006 Progressive States Network