Universal Pre-K in Maine

Universal Pre-K in Maine

Universal Pre-K in Maine

by Helen White

Why is Pre-K needed?

As discussed in a prior post on Year Round Schooling, one of the greatest injustices in our education system is the so-called “achievement gap.” The achievement gap points to the marked difference in academic accomplishment between high- and low-income students, even if they attend the same school and have the same teachers. In the piece on Year Round Schooling, it was shown that some of this gap was the result of the enriching activities which high-income students participated in outside of school.

Another source of inequality is preparedness for kindergarten. High income students are more likely to attend high quality preschools while their low income peers might not (and worse, might not get much educational stimulation at home). Students who attend preschool are more likely to enter kindergarten “ready to read” and are in turn more likely to read at grade level when they reach third grade. More importantly, low-income students not reading at grade level in third grade are nearly 13 times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers who read at grade level. To continue to allow thousands of students’ futures to be determined by their zip codes or parents’ paychecks is unconscionable, particularly when there is a clear solution before us.

The numbers don’t lie, preschool has a direct link to graduation rates. Students who graduate from high school are, on average, net financial contributors to society, whereas high school dropouts are net financial losses to society over their lifetimes. Preschool pays for itself in the long run; leading economists have shown that for every $1 spent on preschool $7 is recouped in later years due to reduced crime, increased tax revenue from more high income earners and reduced social welfare program spending. It is important to note that many of these studies took place in urban areas where the crime rate is much higher than in Maine. Therefore the amount recouped due to a reduction in crime would be less than in urban areas. However, the amount saved by turning dropouts into graduates is still significant.

What is the current state of the preschool system in Maine?

Currently some school districts offer preschool programs and receive funding for those students in the same way they receive funding for other students. However, only about half of all schools offer preschool programs and many of them don’t have enough space for all the preschool-age children who wish to participate. Only about a third of Maine’s 4-year-olds participate.

Providing high quality preschool in the most rural parts of our state would be a difficult undertaking, but is not impossible. Oklahoma, a state that also has large rural populations, has managed to provide the option of high quality preschool to every child in the state and nearly 75% of children participate in the program. In Oklahoma, which, like Maine, struggled with declining enrollment in its most rural schools, rural schools saw more funds because of the influx of students, which helped these schools stay open.

Even though it would be a major challenge to spread universal preschool to our most rural school districts, our most rural students are those who will benefit most. Rural children are 60% more likely to be placed in special education when they enter kindergarten and are far less likely to be considered “ready to read.” It is these students that most need preschool and they are the very ones who are least likely to have access.

President Obama recently proposed federally funded universal preschool, what exactly is in that proposal?

In President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address, he proposed that the federal government should provide matching funds to help states provide universal preschool. More specifically, the federal government would provide funds to support the preschool education of students whose families make less than 200% of the federal poverty line. It would also mandate that qualifying preschool programs must meet certain quality standards, such as small class sizes, qualified teachers who are paid on the same pay scale as K-12 teachers and that health and related services be provided. The proposal also aims to expand many half-day kindergarten programs to full day classes. It also would allocate funds for in-home visitation services for low-income parents that would connect them to additional educational resources for their children. These funds would certainly aid in the expansion of Maine’s current preschool system.

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This post was written by
Matthea “Mattie” Daughtry, a Brunswick native, is the State Representative for the Maine House District 66

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