The Universal Pre-K Debate: Not as Simple as You Think

Parents, childhood educators, and many others are questioning the impact of Obama’s proposed progressive education plan, which strives to provide higher-quality pre-kindergarten to all low- and moderate-income families with four-year-old children. Current preschools, already in need for funding, fear there will be a decrease in value for existing education programs which can be viewed in the existing gap of quality academics in Head Start programs. However, beyond focusing on the need to enhance current educational academics, a deeper argument can be found at the core of where education begins: the primary caregiver for the child.

As a young woman, beginning a family of my own, I am concerned this plan will infringe on the value of a parent’s responsibility to provide primary education for their children. While I support the need for every child to have the most valuable education possible, I do not want to jeopardize parental value and involvement in young children. Obama’s proposed funds are expected to extend preschool services to families at or below 200 percent of poverty, in what is considered a “cost sharing partnership with all 50 states.” I wonder if this cost-sharing component be at the cost of hindering both the parent(s) and the private sector’s personal educational involvement with a child.

Federal involvement in advocating for earlier learning seeks to continue to bridge the gap in learning opportunities between parent(s) and their children. Research efforts conducted by organizations such as the Perry Preschool Program, who examined the lives of 123 young African American children born in poverty and at high risk of failing in school, have inspired the idea that preschool is a minor investment when compared to the outweighing benefits. Data supports the idea that children who attend a high-quality preschool regularly go on to live more successful lives than those who don’t.  This success is seen in results of children growing up to achieve a diploma from high school, obtain a greater IQ and income, and have fewer arrests. Investing an early education has proof to be a minor cost compared to the benefits. I would agree. 

However, while this data is encouraging to families and children who have limited access to early education, I wonder if this program considers the cost of cultivating a society’s reliance on the federal government’s ability to fund opportunities for high quality education system from preK-12 grade. This dependence will be generated through what The White House Fact Sheet on "Obama's Plan for Early Education for all Americans" states as, “federal funds”, in which States will have to "meet quality benchmarks." The benchmarks include: "State-level standards for early learning," "comprehensive data and assessment systems," "rigorous curriculum," and the creation of "effective evaluation and review of programs." 

A just society thrives on the fruit of its harvest. What will be the harvest we reap from a dependent education system? What could the potential be if citizens cultivate a concern for their community as a whole and allow opportunities to increase the quality of education to our children? A child’s life is woven together through a patchwork of dedicated caregivers. I challenge citizens to not focus on being indifferent to new education proposals due to only budget concerns and the negative effects of subsidies on childcare providers. Rather, we should also obtain a concern for children’s high-quality education to also be impacted through their community, and caregivers. I advocate bridging the gap in learning opportunities between parent(s) and their children

While I support efforts for better education, I urge Americans in debate over this issue to take in consideration the measure of learning outcomes children receive from our wisdom and involvement in their lives. Children are still impacted by the guidance and nurturing of “a whole village” that it takes to raise a child. Our devotion to education can go only go so far as measurements lend themselves, however, a dedicated society to promote individual responsibility could also lead to fewer arrests, a high-school diploma, and a higher quality education.  I am still weighing through my ideas of a universal pre-K because I see great benefits for many families who do not have access to current preschool programs, however, I think there is more to the story than what is presented in the current debate.

"The beginning years of a child’s life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school and in life,” stated in Obama’s Plan for Early Education for all Americans. Parents, caregivers, and communities, I believe this foundation begins with us. Let’s accept the responsibility to provide for the needs of our children- and neighbors I ask that you come along side families who can’t. I believe that then we will see more success in a child’s life than only relying on reaching standards guided by “benchmarks” and “rigorous curriculum.”

-Sara Bissig is a senior at Asbury University.