Cradle to pre-k is a pivotal age in child development and sets the foundation for lifelong success. Decades of research demonstrate that access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education and care is fundamentally important in achieving successful outcomes later in life.
Cities are making advances in expanding access to care and education, including many through universal public pre-K. Universal pre-K programs enjoy wide public support and could close the achievement gap by 40%, with economic benefits that exceed costs. While pre-K is a critical issue, cities should consider how they can support collaboration across systems to better serve this population.
Promoting brain development in a city’s youngest residents is key to any effort to eliminate racial and economic disparities. Cities leading on this issue are enhancing educational achievements through programs like closing the word gap; cities are limiting exposure to specific toxins at this age to prevent lifelong negative impacts in cognitive function; and they are actively stemming racial and educational inequities in cost of care and services. Other cities are working to improve the knowledge, skills, and education of teachers; and raising compensation and other benefits to stabilize this underpaid workforce.
What Cities Can Do
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Dayton, OH is moving towards universal pre-K as part of an effort to raise both long-term educational outcomes and to close economic and racial academic achievement gaps. The city’s voters approved an increase to the earned income tax to support a year of preschool to Dayton families with four-year-olds. The city paired this effort with other changes, such as designing playscapes in previously vacant lots.
Washington, DC has provided universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds since 2008. In 2017, approximately 9 out of 10 of the DC’s 4-year-olds and 7 out of 10 of 3-year-olds were enrolled in a publicly funded pre-K program. A study by the Center for American Progress found that universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds increased the number of mothers with young children participating in the workforce.
In 2014, the Department of Education in New York City, NY, expanded full-day universal pre-kindergarten, known as Pre-K for All (PKA), to include more than 68,000 children in the 2015-2016 school year. The program is funded through a mix of state grants (78%), city tax levy (21%) and federal grants (1%). An evaluation study of the first years of the program found that 92% of surveyed parents highly rate the quality and impact of their child’s pre-K program. In 2017, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the expansion of 3-K for All, to serve over 11,000 children in free, full-day, high-quality seats.
In San Antonio, TX, a prekindergarten program for four-year-old children (Pre-K 4-SA) was established following the recommendation of a blue-ribbon task-force. The program started in 2014 with 700 children, and grew to 3,700 in 2017. It is funded by a 1/8 cent sales tax and had a budget of $47.6 million in 2017. A recent study found that the program led to significant improvement in cognitive, literacy, and math skills of participating children.
In 2016, the city council in Philadelphia, PA, approved a five-year plan to create 6,500 locally-funded, affordable pre-K seats. By March 2017, 1,870 children enrolled in the program, around 90% of them from the household with an income below 300% of the Federal Poverty Level.
In Tulsa, OK, philanthropic leaders saw that children who attended an early childhood education program were notably more likely to graduate from high school than their peers. In 2006, the George Kaiser Family Foundation established the first Tulsa Educare center to provide high-quality early childhood education to low-income students, and the State of Oklahoma contributed to improve pre-K education for low-income students. Evidence that students who spend 3-5 years in an Educare program are significantly better prepared for kindergarten than their peers.
Closing the Word Gap
Providence, RI created the ‘Providence Talks’ program – a free, voluntary program which coaches families and provides resources to assist in appropriate vocabulary growth for young children. Providence Talks is funded with a $5 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies and aims to close the ‘word gap’ between children of low-income households and their peers. The main aim of the program is to increase and measure conversational interactions at home, in order to reach the optimal 15,000 to 21,000 words a day to encourage healthy brain development.