Obama Wants to Expand Preschool Programs, But Do We Really Need That?

Politics at Play 34

preschoolOne of President Obama's proposals in last night's State of the Union address must have made parents of toddlers sit up and listen (if they were still awake by then). Obama wants to expand preschool opportunities for four-year-olds. This would include providing high-quality preschool for all low-income and moderate-income families, and expanding programs for middle-income families. The proposal would also incentivize full-day kindergarten.

But at a time when budgets are already tight and we're cutting every government program that isn't working, should we expand preschool? Does preschool really "work" -- and what do we really expect preschool do to, anyway?

The most recent study of the Head Start program looks mixed at first glance. Kids in Head Start showed major gains in academics through second grade. But after that? Not so much. By then, as kids get older, many other factors can affect their education performance. Still, Head Start kids are more likely to finish high school and go to college than their other low-income peers. And the investment saves us money later on down the line on things like special education and grade repetition -- and incarceration!

What preschool does seem to do is get kids ready for kindergarten.

My son attended a public school Pre-K program with both middle-class and low-income kids, and the difference in these kids was HUGE. I mean, here was my son, raised by two parents with advanced degrees, read to since he was a baby, expected take school seriously, and able to adjust to a new setting.

And then there were the kids who were like fish out of water. Everything was unfamiliar: The classroom, books, paying attention, following a routine. They were on a steep learning curve. But thanks to the sweet patience of their teachers and an effective program they caught up with the rest of their peers. And that's what preschool is all about for some kids.

So is it worth it? And should we do more?

The federal government already spends $8 billion on Head Start programs. Meanwhile, states have been cutting preschool program budgets by an average of $700 per child. Times are tough, and I'm not sure where the money for this initiative is going to come from.

I think preschool programs help give kids a fighting chance, especially low-income kids. I'm not so sure about middle-income kids. I kind of feel like those kids are going to be more ready for kindergarten no matter what. But maybe that's overly optimistic. Middle-class families can better afford private preschool, but it's a major financial burden. Maybe what we really need to do is stick with at-risk kids and think about what's going to keep those strong Head Start gains going all the way through high school.

What do you think about Obama's proposal to expand preschool programs?


Image via kaylhew/Flicker


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the4m... the4mutts

Im not an Obama fan. However, this is something I support. It will help everyone in the long run, if only to get children aquainted with a school setting earlier in life.

As long as it doesnt somehow make it mandatory for kids to go to preschool, then I say go for it!

lulou lulou

Im more interested in any child development/neuro type studies that would show the impact on brain development.  Or simply look at how early foreign language, music, etc is recommended at a young age.  Or look at other countries systems, who's academic perfomances are putting ours to shame.  I see this as a smart investment.

2boys... 2boysmama311

When did preschool become the government's responsibility instead the parents? 

LoveM... LoveMyViolet

It's a great idea. Studies have shown that ages 2-5 are very crucial in learning development. A lot of people do not have the means or available programs in their area. 

Preschools in my area have early 2nd language courses you can take, which I think is wonderful because languages are easier to learn at a young age. But these classes cost $300 in addition to preschool costs. Many simply cannot afford them. 

If this nation wants to continue to be relevant, we need to invest in our youth. 

SIMom... SIMomSays

I agree with investing in out youth. And if you can give your kids a greater opportunity by dishing out the extra money for things like foregin language thats great! But soooo many parents can not afford basic preschool.

2boysmama311, if you couldn't afford to send your kids to preschool wouldn't you want there to be SOMETHING for them out there to help prepare them for school? You obviously have the means or you wouldn't have made your comment, so you are one of the lucky who few who can splurge on some of the EXTRAS but why deny KIDS who are not as fortunate as your children?

We live in NYC and I know a ton of parents, who I guess would be considered middle class, who struggle to pay for decent preschool programs. I can only imagine how hard it is to come up with the money when your struggeling to make ends meet as is.

Christy Howell-Hoots

Just curious, SIMom, why did you say "can't afford basic preschool?"  Are there areas where parents have to pay to send their children to preschool?  Where I live a child going to pre-school is no different than going to another school.  It's considered public so parents don't have to pay to enroll their children.

Aaron King

i THINK this is wonderful. my 3 year old will be 4 soon. she is an only child and only gets to see family friends kids and family members kids here and there...it will help socialize her. I am a low income hard worker and i support this! Anything for my children i take advantage of

Javi0... Javi05Eli07

Christy, there are lots of places that do private preschool in daycares.  There are also school districts that do not offer preschool for free or only offer it to a limited amount of students.  Our school district has their 4K program free for all 4 year olds living in the district.  It is run just like kinder was 20 years ago.

nonmember avatar savannah

Just because children are from low income homes doesn't mean they are further behind the the middle class. I'm lower income and my kids are really smart. My daughter could count to 20 at 2. Which some k can't even do that.

nonmember avatar savannah

Just because children are from low income homes doesn't mean they are further behind the the middle class. I'm lower income and my kids are really smart. My daughter could count to 20 at 2. Which some kindergarten kids can't even do that. So it doesn't go by the amount of money the parents make. Doesnt mean they are dumb.

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