The year was 1995. When Pixar and Disney joined forces to create ‘Toy Story’ and Bill Clinton was well into his first term as president before Lewinsky-gate. That same year a little known achievement in education occurred—the state of Georgia took a huge step forward by providing universal public prekindergarten to all its 4-year-olds, regardless of family income.
Eighteen years later, the state received a shout-out in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, and followed by an aptly-timed visit from the president himself. He heralded the state as an example for all, and something that would work within the framework of his own government-funded preschool plan.
“We know it works. If you are looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it. Right here,” he said, at an event at a school in Georgia in 2013.
His plan was simple: combine federal dollars with state dollars to provide high-quality universal pre-k for 4-year-olds in America who come from low- and moderate-income families, a position in which he underscored in his recent State of the Union address.
And now New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing the issue to the top of his policy agenda.
The case for universal pre-k is a no-brainer. By investing in our children early, and with the right resources, it would equip them with the tools necessary not only to succeed in kindergarten, but in overall educational attainment.
For years, supporters have highlighted the fact that inequity in education begins at a very young age. Mayor de Blasio recognizes that although New York City leads in some areas, it noticeably lags in the arena of early childhood education, where 4-year-olds are not treated to a full-day of engaged learning. It needs to be a model, like that of Georgia.
Nationally, 28 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-financed preschools, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. The study also revealed that in New York State, although enrollment in pre-k has increased, funding has noticeably decreased, which puts the state on the bottom of the list of meeting certain quality benchmarks, meaning whether or not the programs have qualified teachers, support services, hot meals and a balanced staff-child ratio, among others.
Additionally, research conducted by The National Institutes of Health estimated that every dollar spent on early education generated $11 in economic benefits over a child’s lifetime.
For New York City, the most recent data shows that only 22 percent of all of the city’s students are prepared for college-level work, and of minority students the number drops to 13 percent. And Mayor de Blasio believes that with implementation of high-quality pre-k could improve these numbers significantly for the next generation.
If we’re going to be serious about educating our children, why not give them the best education when they’re first starting out?
We already know that providing high-quality pre-k is substantial for young kids, and has large societal and economic implications. Both the Perry Preschool Project in Michigan and the Abecedarian Project in North Carolina showed the significant gains later in life for low-income children, finding out in both long-term studies that those who had quality pre-k also “had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes, and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.”
Some call the mayor’s plan political posturing, but his plan is one that would allow a leveling of an all-ready unequal public education system that is present in New York City.
Last month, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced her intention to divert $210 million dollars from the budget, now allocated for charter schools to help pay for universal pre-k, igniting controversy. With those funds, over the next two years, Mayor de Blasio hopes to add 41,000 full-day prekindergarten seats across the city. But he still needs more dollars in the bank.
His top priority now is to persuade state lawmakers and the governor to pass a tax on wealthy New Yorkers to pay for universal pre-k. He should articulate clearly that this isn’t just to prepare the city’s children for kindergarten, but it is a significant investment in the long-term.