Index Indicator Blog Series: Preschool Sets Kids on the Path to Future Success
For decades, the research has been clear and compelling: children who attend high-quality preschool have better outcomes than their peers who do not, and this is particularly true for low-income children. What is becoming clearer, thanks to a new poll by the First Five Years Fund that was released on July 31, 2013, is that there is widespread bipartisan support for federally-funded public preschool.
EdSource Today reported that the poll found that 50 percent of the 800 registered voters surveyed said they “strongly” support President Barack Obama’s $75 billion proposal to expand public preschool offerings by raising the federal tobacco tax. Another 20 percent said they “somewhat” support it. “A majority of likely voters from every major party — including 60 percent of registered Republicans — supported the plan,” reports EdSource Today.
Opportunity Nation believes high-quality early education is key to ensuring more young people have the skills, preparation and support they need to succeed in today’s economy. We track the percentage of three and four-year olds enrolled in preschool in all 50 states plus Washington DC in the Opportunity Index. (The 2013 Opportunity Index results will be released this autumn.)
Two long-term and highly regarded research projects, the HighScope Perry Preschool Study and the Carolina Abecedarian Project established years ago the numerous benefits of a preschool education. Children who attend preschool are stronger in reading, math and language development than those who do not. Adults who attended these preschool programs 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 had not attended.
We are proud that Opportunity Nation’s coalition has several organizations committed to improving preschool in the United States, including Steering Committee Member Jumpstart. Jumpstart recruits and trains college students to work one-on-one with preschool children in low-income neighborhoods, implementing research-based curriculum to help children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for kindergarten and their future educational trajectory.
A strong prekindergarten education has proven to be one of the best vehicles for setting children on the right path for their future, especially those coming from a low-income background. Therefore, it is hardly a surprise that politicians are setting their sights on improving early childhood education. In his State of the Union Address in February, President Obama underscored the importance of preschool. He explained that investing in preschool will actually save money because graduation rates would improve and crime and teen pregnancy would lower. Republicans, too, have supported the expansion of publicly-funded early-learning programs, particularly in Oklahoma and Georgia, two of the states President Obama cited in his remarks. Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal has prioritized universal preschool for the children of his state, believing this investment will boost high school graduation rates and enable students to get family-sustaining jobs, become contributing members of society and pay higher taxes.
Opportunity Index Dimension: Education
Indicator: Preschool Enrollment
Measure: Percent of children ages 3 and 4 in school
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
Rationale for inclusion: An important first step on the road to opportunity is a high quality early education. The percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool is an important indicator of school readiness and life chances. At-risk children who attend a high quality preschool are more likely to graduate high school and be employed as adults, and less likely to repeat a grade, engage in crime, and spend time in prison than at-risk children who do not attend a high quality preschool.