NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Will Public Schools Add Universal Preschool To K-12?

November 13, 1998

There is a growing demand from parents for early education programs for children, reports Time magazine, and some public school systems are responding. The trend is due partly to the increasing proportion of families in which both parents work and the cost of day care. Also teachers' unions express concern that some children arrive at kindergarten unprepared and already behind their peers -- at age five.

For decades, the federal government has funded preschool programs for economically disadvantaged children, those whose primary language is other than English and children with disabilities. These programs are often run by the public schools and serve four year olds or even three year olds.

Now, a few states want to make free "pre-K" universal.

  • Today, 39 states pay for at least one kind of pre-K program, says the Families and Work Institute, usually in programs based on financial need.
  • However, Georgia has funded universal pre-K since 1995, and today the $217 million program serves 61,000 kids.
  • Although the program is now voluntary, Georgia Gov. Zell Miller (D) advocates mandatory enrollment.
  • New York state launched a $62 million pilot program this fall with 19,000 slots, filled mainly by lottery, and has pledged universal access by 2003.

Heritage Foundation researcher Patrick Fagan says, "It's a transfer of funds away from the mother taking care of the child. It's double taxation on the mother at home."

Children are already spending an increasing amount of time in preschool and school: 3-to-11 year-olds spent on average four hours a day in preschool or school in the early 1980s and now spend an average of six hours a day, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Source: Jodie Morse, "Preschool for Everyone," Time, November 9, 1998, and Steven A. Holmes, "Children Study Longer and Play Less, a Report Says," New York Times, November 11, 1998.


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