We would want New Hampshire to be in a position to take advantage of this national pre-K education opportunity if it becomes a real resource. From the Huffington Post:
the White House is considering a major step to boost early childhood education. According to sources close to the administration, Duncan and the Department of Health and Human Services are outlining a plan to create universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds from low- and some middle-income families — approximately 1.85 million children. The plan, which is projected to cost as much as $10 billion to implement in full, is still under review by the White House, but sources said that last Tuesday, Linda Smith, an HHS official, discussed the proposal at a meeting of early childhood advocates.
Currently, about 800,000 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families receive support through the federally funded Head Start program. In addition, about 100,000 families are enrolled in Early Head Start, which provides support to expectant mothers and infants. Whereas Head Start emphasizes things like health, nutrition and emotional development, the new program would integrate preschool into the existing K-12 school system and focus more on academics. It would also expand access to early childhood education beyond lower-income families to eventually include the middle class.
Depending on how the final proposal works, the push could be very controversial. Most advocates believe any expansion of preschool seats would be a good thing. But some worry that the change takes a holistic, somewhat successful federal program targeted at poor kids and turns it into a broader, more academic one — and turns it over to the states, making the whole thing vulnerable to state budget cuts.
“These ideas have been floated before and shut down by Head Start folks who worry that it’s letting Head Start wither on the vine,” said Lisa Guernsey, an early education expert at the New America Foundation. “Head Start is for the poorest of the poor … so if you say, ‘Let’s stretch the program so that it’s helping the middle class with pre-K access,’ you risk not being able to reach all those children in poverty.”
Experts and advocates on both sides of the partisan divide have recognized the importance of early childhood education. Without the opportunity to learn about things like sounds, shapes and colors in their earliest years, when brains are most malleable, children walk into their first days of kindergarten already far behind. Research has shown that this early educational disadvantage follows students throughout their academic lives, translating into yawning achievement gaps in later grades.
Early childhood education attainment — and Head Start in particular — has also been tied to better life outcomes. In 2012, several police chiefs highlighted the need for more and better preschool as a long-term crime reduction tool. James Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, has shown that every dollar spent on quality early childhood education yields a seven to 10 percent return on investment as the program’s graduates begin contributing to the economy.
“I would hope that [Obama] takes on early childhood education,” Dennis van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said in a recent interview. “If we’re ever going to tackle this issue about equity, that’s where you start. I’ve been hounding Secretary Duncan about it for a year.”
The American public on the whole is not so emphatic in its support for increased preschool access. Although 40 percent of Americans do not “think that most parents of young children have access to affordable pre-kindergarten,” according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, there are 33 percent who believe they do, and 27 percent who weren’t sure. Thirty-seven percent of respondents indicated they thought the feds should spend more on early childhood education, but 23 percent thought they should spend less, and 24 percent thought spending levels should remain the same.