NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Universal Preschool

September 23, 2015

The Obama Administration announced its latest federal program, Preschool for All, to provide low- and moderate-income four-year olds with free public preschool. However, research makes many wonder if the program is even necessary.

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 69 percent of kindergarteners attended a preschool the year prior to matriculation into elementary school.
  • Many families, including those able to pay, chose not to send their child to preschool.
  • The Brookings Institute calculates a cost of $2 to $4 billion to provide preschool to children who are currently not attending a preschool program because of an inability to pay.
  • Data used by the Administration for cost projections should be called into question.

A subsidy program could be created in order to address the problem of preschool access for low- to moderate-income families. The model would be based on a progressive income-based subsidy in which families in the lowest quintile pay nothing; those in the next quintile pay half the costs of attendance; those in the middle quintile pay three quarters of the cost of attendance; and those in the top two quintiles cover all of the tuition costs.

Preschool and how to pay for college are going to be the two leading education topics in the 2016 presidential race. A proposal for a new program that would add at least $2 billion a year to the roughly $20 billion a year the federal government already spends on early learning and child care is a very different beast than a proposal that would more than double current levels of expenditure.

Source: Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, "Do we already have universal preschool?" Brookings Institute, September 17, 2015.

 

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