The need for quality pre-school education in the United States

How many families do you think send their children to preschool programs?

According to a new report titled A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America, not enough. In fact, too many children enter kindergarten behind in their academic and social-emotional skills. Some children are as much as one to two years behind their classmates.

According to a new report from the United States Department of Education, the government needs to invest in additional high-quality early education opportunities.

The consequence of not doing so means that some children will end up being behind in their learning for years. A sad fact.

The executive summary of the report states the issue well:

As a nation, we must ensure that all children, regardless of income or race have access to high-quality preschool opportunities.

I couldn't agree more.

The Surprising Benefits of Quality Pre-School Education

The report notes that advances in neuroscience and research now demonstrate the benefits of quality early education for children. In fact, the early years before a child reaches kindergarten is a critical period in a child's learning and development, and for providing a foundation for developing advanced skills.

You might find this surprising, but quality preschool programs can increase a child's educational attainments and even future earnings as adults.

In addition, quality preschool programs can prevent children from needing special education services.

Our government's investment in quality preschool programs will pay off. According to this report, for every $1 spent on a child the return investment is $8.60.

How’s that for a great return on investment?

Enrollment in Publicly-Funded Quality Pre-School Programs Still Lacking

Unfortunately, six out of every ten children are not enrolled in a publicly funded preschool program, such as Head Start. The report also found that enrollment in publicly funded preschool programs is uneven across the country.

Across the U.S., 59% of four-year-olds are not enrolled in a publicly funded preschool program. In Arizona, 81% of four-year-olds rolls fall into this category.

In California, where I live 71% of four-year-olds are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs. The numbers are even worse in Hawaii and Idaho where 87% of preschool children are not enrolled in programs.

In Florida, Oklahoma, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, 70% of four-year-olds are in state-funded preschool programs. However, nationwide 2.5 million four-year-olds have unmet early learning needs.

The situation is even worse for Latino children. Latinos are the fastest growing and largest minority in the United States. According to the report, "Latinos demonstrate the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race. The participation rate for Latinos is 40%, compared to 50% for African-American children, and 53% for white children."

Low-Income Kids Have Fewer Opportunities for Quality Pre-School Education

As you might suspect, the situation is also dire for children from low-income families.

Although African-American children have a higher attendance rate in preschool programs, the report found that African-American children and those from low-income families ...

... are the most likely to attend low-quality preschool programs and the least likely to attend high-quality preschool programs.

The report states that the Obama administration has requested formula funding to address these unmet needs for three years. Its budget for 2016 includes funding for continuation grants to expand government-funded preschool programs to more states.

Unfortunately, 18 states applied for the preschool development grants but did not receive funding. These states include California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington.

President LBJ’s Commitment to Full Educational Opportunities

The report notes that 50 years ago President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the law. Johnson felt that "full educational opportunity" should be a national goal.

In its closing comments the report states:

Without a deliberate focus on children’s preschool experiences in our nation’s education law, we run the risk of limiting opportunity for a generation of children by allowing educational gaps to take root before kindergarten. As a nation, we must commit to ensuring that all young people – particularly our most vulnerable – are prepared for a future where they can fulfill their greatest potential through a strong education.

What can you do? Whether you have preschool children or you don't, quality pre-school education education and literacy programs will affect your community, the country, and the world.

Let's do what we can – whether it's contacting a member of Congress for our district or working at the local level – to ensure quality preschool programs for all children.

The need for quality pre-school education in the United States by  Elizabeth B Martin

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.