NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is Universal Preschool a Good Idea?

December 28, 1999

Vice President Al Gore has laid out a $50 billion education plan for preschool for 3 and 4 year olds. The money, spent over 10 years, would take the U.S. in the direction of making preschool available to everyone.

But some experts say there is no evidence preschool confers any advantage for children.

  • The number of 3 and 4 year olds in preschool has nearly quadrupled since 1970 -- from 1 million to 3.9 million in 1997, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • Georgia offers preschool to all of its 4 year olds, at a cost of $3,584 per child, and three out of every four parents participate.
  • In European nations such as France, preschool is universal, but doesn't appear to confer any special advantage -- in reading, math and science, for example, U.S. fourth-graders outperform nearly all of their universally preschooled European peers; but by eighth grade, Americans start sliding down the international curve, hitting bottom in the 12th grade.

Gore would build on Head Start and existing state sponsored preschools, but stops far short of a universal program -- which would cost roughly $300 billion over 10 years.

Source: Editorial, "Time for States to Take Lead and Push for Early Education," and Darcy Olsen (Cato Institute), "Preschool is Not the Answer," both USA Today, December 28, 1999.


Browse more articles on Education Issues