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Guest Column

May 31, 2014

Universal pre-k? Let's work with what we've got

The more education the better right? This is true not just for graduate or Ph.D programs, but at the other end of the spectrum: universal pre-kindergarten.

The idea that pre-kindergarten should be available for all is fantastic in theory, but not justifiable from a financial perspective. Funding a new entitlement is risky when a present program — Head Start — meets the need.

There is overwhelming evidence that shows pre-kindergarten is good for children. Studies show that those who received pre-kindergarten need fewer special education classes, are more likely to graduate from high school and to hold jobs, are more likely to own a home, less likely to be on welfare, and are significantly less likely to wind up in the courts and in the jails.

However, not all children benefit from this preparatory work. Universal pre-k only helps those who are the most in need of it. Several studies demonstrate that children from middle-class and well-off homes benefit little from pre-school.

According to Stanford economist Susanna Loeb, children from low-income families benefit greatly from pre-kindergarten. Many poorer children enter kindergarten four to six months behind their middle- and upper-class classmates in oral language and preliteracy skills.

So if universal pre-kindergarten does not help all children, then why invest in all children?

One option to fund this universal pre-k behemoth of an institutional revamp is to tax the rich. In essence, this would create a new revenue stream out of thin air.

This program would be incredibly expensive. In 2011, taxpayers paid about $5.49 billion in taxes toward pre-k funding for only 45 percent of 4-year-olds and 20 percent of 3-year-olds. Tens of billions of dollars would need to be invested each year into a system that would benefit only a specific segment of its students.

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