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Congressional Democrats Make Case for Universal Prekindergarten

A report released Friday by a group of congressional Democrats touts the benefits of universal prekindergarten for children and working families.

The report comes the day after Democrats in the House and Senate unveiled the Child Care for Working Families Act, which is designed to make child care more accessible.

The Democratic staff of the Joint Economic Committee, a congressional committee composed of 10 members from both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, produced the report. The JEC includes eight Democrats and 12 Republicans.

The report, entitled "High-Quality Early Learning and Care Drives Lifelong Success," lays out both economic and academic benefits of children attending quality preschools and includes information about pre-K enrollment and costs by state.

"We have long known that investments in early education boost education outcomes and increase earnings," wrote New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, the ranking member on the JEC, in an email. "Access to early-childhood education not only gives children the opportunity to acquire the skills they need for a brighter future, but strengthens the foundation of our economy."

The paper mentions that high-quality early-childhood education prepares children for kindergarten while also increasing the chances that they will attend college and go on to have productive careers. It also says that these programs can help close learning gaps present in kindergarten between children from low-income families and their more affluent peers as well as the gaps frequently found between black and Hispanic children and their white peers.

The report stresses that these programs should meet the needs of working families by taking on a two-generation approach that provides benefits for parents and their children. For example, programs should cover the full working hours of parents and direct them to resources that will benefit the whole family economically. It points out that mothers whose children attend high-quality pre-K programs are more likely to attend college and increase their earnings by $90,000 over the course of their careers.

The High Cost of High-Quality Preschool

Barriers to pre-K enrollment are also explored in the report, with cost being chief among them. The paper notes that the average cost of a private, high-quality pre-K program runs nearly $8,500, or 13 percent of the median family income.

Henrich suggests that the federal government work with states to reduce costs. He co-sponsored the child-care bill released Thursday, which calls for a federal-state partnership to provide universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.

"The evidence on pre-K is clear," wrote Henrich in an email. "Investments in education for our children result in large fiscal and economic benefits. Each dollar spent on early learning and care can generate up to $7.30 of benefits to society. Providing the opportunity for our children and their families to have access to high-quality pre-K is the right thing to do and a sound investment for our country."


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