We are grateful Time Magazine recently covered the struggles communities are having around protecting preschool. Research has shown that preschool as an investment pays for itself many times over, yet public funding to ENSURE preschool/Pre-K opportunities for all children is the exception. While many school districts offer Pre-K, it is not technically part of their mandate and with budgets being cut, Pre-K is first to go. We’ve seen this in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Prince George’s County where school leaders have begun to see the results of their in investment in Pre-K as improvements in Kindergarden readiness begin to translate into better elementary school results. But, with limited budgets it’s hard to argue for spending on non-mandated Pre-K when the district is struggling to maintain a full slate of high school course offerings that enable their students to compete for the most selective colleges.
Time Magazine’s “The Preschool Wars” provides a powerful summary of why we know Pre-K is such a valuable investment and what’s happening—or what’s not happening—to protect it. The story focuses on North Carolina’s recent state battle. Last June the general assembly cut 20% ($32M) from the state’s preschool program and Governor Beverly Perdue started fighting by issuing the state’s first veto ever. “Preschool can totally change the outcome of a child’s entire life,” says Governor Perdue. “It’s rare in public service that you can make such a cost-effective investment.”
This is the moment that states and districts can make the tough choices to secure this unquestionably vital investment. It’s challenging to continue making investments in tough times. But, investing in the future is actually more important in tough times because it makes a different outcome possible. While we’re being forced to make big cuts in every area, why not take the opportunity to cut further in some areas by addressing long neglected needs to restructure costs or offerings and do it in the name of giving all children who need it, the opportunity to attend pre-school. We know it’s not easy to take dollars from today’s need to support an investment that will pay off in the future, but we really can’t afford not to.