Joe Biden's plan to give all parents free child care may be met with resistance, but experts say it's necessary to help families in the long run.
New York City schools are poised to receive $4.5 billion from Democrats' COVID relief plan, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is planning to invest in a massive expansion of universal preschool that will include 3-year-olds and up.
If a Washington Post report on Monday, detailing President Joe Biden's upcoming infrastructure and jobs package, is correct, it's possible the rest of the country may get universal preschool as well — and soon.
The pandemic and subsequent economic hardship had previously dismantled de Blasio's original plan to expand universal pre-K by 2021. But with relief funds allotted to the city from the American Rescue Plan, at least 16,500 more pre-K students this school year by extending the program to 3-year-olds.
Meanwhile, the Post reported Monday that Biden's upcoming "Build Back Better" $3 trillion spending package will include provisions dedicated to domestic policy issues like universal pre-K and free community college, although it's unclear when the plan will be formally presented.
A recent Invest in America/Data for Progress poll shows that the majority of Americans support the package.
Universal preschool would be a fulfillment of Biden's promises on the campaign trail, where he called for a national plan for universal preschool that would invest $775 billion over a 10-year period — funded by cracking down on tax-noncompliant wealthy Americans and by cutting tax breaks for rich real estate investors.
It would be a positive step, since studies have repeatedly shown that universal preschool is good for parents, children, and the economy.
A 2017 Center for American Progress report found that increased preschool attendance leads to increased participation by mothers of small children in the work force, less reliance on programs like Medicaid and WIC, and higher wages for working mothers.
A 2018 report on Washington, D.C.'s, universal pre-K program showed that, after the city implemented the program in 2009, rates of maternal participation in the work force shot up by 12 percentage points. The most meaningful increase in participation was that of mothers with younger children.
The data also suggests that universal preschool is good for the children, with reports showing that quality pre-K programs are a major predictor of future academic success — particularly for underprivileged preschoolers. And quality programs are pricey — an Economic Policy Institute report found that American families are spending $42 billion annually on early child care, while public funding for preschool could save these families $20,000 each year.
Despite conservative claims to the contrary, universal preschool is also good for the economy.
Studies show universal pre-K programs have proven to be cost-effective in the long run. According to the Brookings Institution, they lead to fewer students repeating grades, higher-achieving high school students, and lower crime rates.
The cost savings is about $13,000 to $19,000 for every child attending such a program, Brookings notes, while the Rand Corporation reports that universal pre-K programs save at least $2 for every $1 invested. A Center for American Progress report found that the United States would see an $83.3 billion benefit annually from universal preschool.
"Universal pre-K allows children of all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds the opportunity to attend well-designed, high-quality preschool," education advocate and teacher Debbie Lopez told Rasmussen University, noting that it served as a great long-term educational equalizer for children from low-income homes.
Congressional Republicans are likely to obstruct efforts to pass universal preschool, since its funding relies on cutting tax benefits for the wealthy. And experts note that the $3 trillion spending package will encounter resistance across the board.
Still, Laura Dallas McSorley, the director of early childhood policy at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, told the American Independent Foundation, pushing for universal pre-k was critical to helping families in the long run.
"When coupled together," she said, "robust investments in early learning programs like child care and universal pre-K are critical for promoting economic growth by enabling parents to enter or stay in the workforce, making options more affordable for families, and expanding learning opportunities to all young children without regard to familial wealth or where they grow up."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.