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Report: Middle Class Children Need Preschool Too

Children from middle-income families are more likely to attend preschool than their peers from low-income families, but less likely to attend than children from high-income families. Maybe not surprising, but definitely an issue, according to an October analysis by the non-partisan think tank, The Century Foundation, of the existing research on the effect of preschool on middle class children.

The report opens with the provocative idea that the existing funding formulas used to apportion public early-education funding are all wrong. This quote is actually from the conclusion, which is more concise, but says essentially the same thing as the introduction:

Much of early-childhood policy at the federal and state level focuses on how to divide existing funding for maximum effect. With limited resources, it makes sense that most early-childhood programs so far have focused on serving low-income families. ... [But,] the premise of this scarcity-based approach to funding early-childhood investments is flawed. Instead of fighting over limited resources, we must create a bigger pie.

Income.pngThe analysis then goes on to cite several recent reports on the positive effect of early education on middle-class kids, an area that has historically received short shrift. For example, a 2014 study by Timothy J. Bartik of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research showed that all preschool graduates saw a bump in their family income. (See chart.)

And a study of the universal preschool program in Tulsa, Okla., by a team from Center for Research on Children in the U.S., found that middle-income children who had attended the city's public preschool program entered kindergarten seven months ahead of their peers in terms of pre-reading skills. (See second chart.) 

Reading.pngMany insiders in the early-ed. space will say that while preschool doesn't hurt anyone, it's not needed for middle-class children with college-educated parents. Those children, the theory goes, will be fine either way. And besides, middle-class parents can afford child care. So the report concludes with a refutation of those arguments as well, pointing out that in six of 10 American families all of the adults in the household work, making childcare a necessity. Even among married couples, the proportion of two-parent-working homes has never been higher. Plus, costs for private programs have risen rapidly and have become, in many states, as expensive as a year of public college.

That makes high-quality child care a necessity for everyone, the report authors argue, and a luxury for noone.

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