Five Reasons We Can't Wait for Universal Preschool

A brief personal story: all at once, I changed jobs and our part-time babysitter moved on after three terrific years: the scramble was on for loving, enriching child care at a price that didn’t break our family’s budget.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe it was 30 years ago, or maybe just last year.

Maybe you’re not a parent at all. You don’t have to be – turns out preschool is good for everybody. Here are five reasons we need universal preschool right now:

1. Preschool is good for kids.

Whether or not we need childcare to allow us to work, many of us parents choose to send our kids to preschool. Why? Because we have a gut sense that it’s good for them to socialize with other kids and start exploring the world in a more school-like environment before kindergarten. And we’re right.

2. Preschool isn’t always a “choice.”

We all like to have choices. But lack of affordable child care means fewer options for families.

Most American families need two incomes to get by, but have you ever asked yourself whether you can afford to work? Childcare is so expensive that many of us “choose” to stay home because after we pay for childcare, there’s next to nothing left. For others, losing a second income would mean being unable to afford basics like rent or mortgage, and child care is a requirement no matter how expensive it is. Meanwhile, many dads say they’d like to take more time for family – something that’s much more difficult if you’re the sole breadwinner. And of course, for single moms or dads, there is literally no choice: childcare is an absolute necessity.

3. Preschool is an antidote to inequality.

Preschool has benefits for all kids, but even more so for kids from low-income families.

Being poor takes a real toll on kids, just like adults. But kids who attend a quality preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, earn more, and are less likely to become teen parents, serve jail or prison time, or need government assistance like welfare or food stamps. Every kid deserves a good start in life.

4. It’s popular.

In an age where everything’s a political battleground, investment in early childhood education is actually something that people across the political spectrum agree on.

5. We can afford it.

One key to successful preschool is that is has to be high quality: that means well-educated, well-paid teachers and thoughtful programs. It’s not cheap.

But it’s worth it. Every dollar invested in preschool saves as much as $17 down the road.

And while it’s expensive, we have the resources. If taxpayers with incomes over $500,000 paid between 0.1% and 1.4% more of their income in taxes (with the highest increase for folks with over $10 million in income), it would cover the president’s proposal to spend $750 billion over the next ten years on preschool for all of our children.  

As a country, we pay plenty in taxes when we decide something is important. In 2014, we spent $628 billion on the military – that’s 73 times as much as we spent on Head Start.

It’s time to get serious about what families need in the 21st century: it’s time for us to recognize that preschool is essential for our kids, our families, and our economy.

Do you hear us, Congress?


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