Investing in Early Education Equality
by The Opportunity Agenda, Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 05:38:28 AM EST
Education is perhaps the closest thing we have to a social panacea. When it works, it can fuel social mobility, economic productivity, crime prevention, and personal fulfillment. And we know that the earlier a child enters school, the more likely he or she is to have a successful academic career. So why is it so hard to make universal preschool a national priority?
Head Start and Early Head Start, the federal preschool program for children from low-income families, provide a powerful argument for incorporating preschool into the mainstream education system and funding it fully. Implemented by a patchwork of non-profit organizations and school districts, Head Start and Early Head Start have been demonstrated to prevent grade repetition and increase the likelihood of high school completion and college attendance. However, it is means tested, meaning that a child whose parents earn more than the poverty level but not enough to afford a private preschool will likely be left out. Additionally, providers have consistent difficulty hiring quality teachers, as the limited funding available allows for an average salary of only $21,000, which is less than half the salary of a public school teacher.
Some states have opted to take the lead in providing universal preschool. These efforts have occured in the absence of longterm federal support, though, which has left them in a precarious financial position and too often operating as a loose affiliation of providers as opposed to a coherent network of classrooms housed within school districts.
President Obama has pledged to make early education a priority, and took a solid first step by appointing a Secretary of Education who has been a consistent proponent of it. Let's hope that he makes good on this promise, and that our children have every opportunity to reach their full potential.
Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.