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Should N.J. expand public preschool?


June 9, 2016
AccessEconomics and FinanceGovernance and AccountabilityOutcomesState & Local
Diane D'Amico
Press of Atlantic City

Only about a third of all children in the state have access to free public preschool. A new legislative effort to expand the program has many supporters, but also many hurdles to overcome. Nationally, public preschool is slowly expanding. In 2003, the first year of the State of Preschool Yearbook published by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers, about 700,000 students in 40 states attended preschool at a cost of about $2.4 billion. By 2014, 1.4 million children in 42 states attended public preschool at a cost of $6.2 billion. Preschool’s detractors cite the cost, quality, insufficient research on its long-term effectiveness, whether the government should fund educating children that young and whether public preschool would put private preschools out of business. Preschool’s detractors cite the cost, quality, insufficient research on its long-term effectiveness, whether the government should fund educating children that young and whether public preschool would put private preschools out of business.

A 2013 report by the Cato Institute said preschool may help, but the research to date does not support expanding existing government programs. The Heritage Foundation criticized President Barack Obama’s 2013 funding for preschool expansion, saying the focus could instead be on improving the federal Head Start program. In New Jersey, Americans for Prosperity Director Erica Jedynak said their focus is equity in funding. She pointed out that many public school districts don’t even have full-day kindergarten. Linwood and Egg Harbor Township are among some 50 districts statewide that still only offer half-day kindergarten. “If we’re going to look at this systematically, we should start with kindergarten,” Jedynak said.