The Economics of Universal Pre-K Programs

Betsy Reed for The Nation, on what universal preschool means economically:

Here’s the thing: the problem that universal pre-K programs address is not simply the need for more enriching early childhood education. The bigger problem is the huge and growing gap between the rich and everyone else—the “tale of two cities” that de Blasio talked of frequently on the campaign trail, and that has made living in New York difficult for most families. [...] It has become fashionable to lament income inequality, and even more so to decry our lack of social mobility. Investment in early childhood education is presented as a response to these related problems that everyone can love, because it promotes opportunity for poor children, which even conservatives can get behind. But universal pre-K and childcare can most powerfully address both inequality and mobility if these programs are financed by an increase in taxes on those who can most easily afford to pay a little more. Done right, this could be a model of sound economics as well as economic justice. That’s why the fate of de Blasio’s plan matters in New York, and why the rest of the country should pay attention. My early childhood development instructors preached to us the importance of building high quality, enriching programs for children and their families. Easier said than done, to be sure, but the underlying principle, they stressed, was that all children have the right to a quality preschool experience regardless of cost or socio-economic status. Thus, the more money we can pour into early childhood programs, the better off our future generation will be.