Why Pre-K and Early Education Are So Important

Pre-kindergarten is important in teaching reading skills. Sandra Ivany/Getty Images

Did you know that Forbes.com reports that the Department of Education has awarded almost $250 million in an effort to ensure that development of early education programs, preschool, continue to best serve children from low- and moderate-income families? This is one example of the President's long-standing plan to offer free, universal pre-school for these families. However, President Trump's latest budget for 2019 education appears to be reducing funding  for schools.

As we know, in President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address he unveiled his plan for universal Pre-K or pre-kindergarten education for four-year-olds. His plan would guarantee kids whose household income is at or below 200% of the poverty line a free pre-K education with local schools and local partners, and their teachers would have the same training as K-12 teachers. In addition, the programs would offer many of the benefits of private school pre-kindergarten programs, including small class sizes, high adult-to-child ratios, and assessment of the programs provided. The program would also expand the number of full-day kindergarten programs available.

Unease in Regards to the Future of Early Childhood Education

However, despite these advancements, there is unease as a result of the new leadership of our nation coming; many people are unsure about the future of early childhood programs. Betsy DeVos has been chosen by President Donald Trump to take on the role of Education Secretary, and her position on pre-school funding is not clear; the same can be said for the President. As a result, there are some who are uncomfortable with the uncertainty, and the latest budget developments are not alieviating fears. 

Why Pre-Kindergarten is So Important

While many private schools offer high-quality pre-kindergarten programs and full-day kindergartens, providing enriching educational opportunities for children under age 6, many children who attend public schools, particularly children living in poverty, do not have access to these programs. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) in New Brunswick, New Jersey, 28% of 4-year-olds were enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program in the 2011-2012 school year, which represents an increase over the 14% of four-year-olds who did so in 2002. Yet, pre-kindergarten programs are critical to children’s long-term success, and experts at NIEER have documented that children who have been enrolled in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs enter kindergarten with better vocabularies and more advanced pre-reading and math skills than children who don’t have access to these programs.

Kids enrolled in pre-k programs aren’t just learning how to recognize letters and numbers; they are also learning critical social skills and the importance of working independently in the classroom. Through high-quality pre-k programs, they develop the confidence to take on more advanced classroom work. Many children struggle with social skills and behavioral problems in kindergarten, and many children are even kicked out of kindergarten. Pre-kindergarten programs are essential in teaching kids the social skills they need for later grades, not just the academic skills.

Pre-K Benefits Last a Lifetime

The benefits of pre-kindergarten education last well beyond kindergarten. According to research conducted by NIEER, there are amazing long-term economic benefits from early childhood education for children in poverty. For example, life-time earnings of some children increase by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the economics benefits of these programs outweigh the costs by a factor of up to 16 (in some programs). In addition, such programs show that participants have lower crime rates and decreased rates of welfare dependence as adults, so the benefits of early childhood education can last a lifetime.

According to the White House Fact Sheet on Obama’s educational plan, children from low-income families are less likely to have access to pre-kindergarten programs, and middle-class families also struggle to afford private pre-school programs, yet these programs are critical to children’s long-term school success. Children from low-income families who are not reading at grade level by third grade are six times less likely to graduate from high school. According to the Fact Sheet from the White House, only 60% of American children have access to full-day kindergarten programs, yet these programs are also essential to teaching children skills critical skills for later academic success.

Pre-kindergarten programs are a promising way to reduce adult poverty in this country and to provide the essential skills workers need as adults. Working with at-risk children in the primary or middle school years may be too late, and while private schools offer high-quality pre-school and early education programs, research studies have documented the need to expand these programs to state-funded programs across the country.

Article updated by Stacy Jagodowski