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Some states struggle to make preschool available to everyone

December 28, 2017
Sally Ho
Associated Press

SEATTLE – In perhaps an unexpected twist, historically conservative strongholds like Oklahoma and West Virginia are leading efforts to bring preschool to all.

“They have in common a low-wage workforce, relatively low education levels and the desire to change that,” said Steven Barnett of the National Institute for Early Education Research. “Whatever they say, politicians in West Virginia know the future of their state is not coal miners.”

Other red states that have notable programs include Alabama and Georgia. But some liberal-leaning cities like Seattle and New York also are running public pre-K programs.

Advocates say more universal programs are needed to address what they call an alarming increase in child care costs. Studies have shown that children who attend a high-quality preschool are more adjusted for the rest of their academic lives and have better outcomes as adults, from higher incomes to healthier lifestyles.

Around the country, some budding programs say there are not enough seats to meet demand and not enough money to make it happen.

Programs in Seattle and New York enjoy overwhelming support locally, which in turn puts pressure on their state lawmakers to act as they face growing inequity in public education and research that touts the benefits of high-quality education in the critical early years.

“Clearly, a statewide program would be so much better, and it should be available to all 3- and 4-year-olds. It’s the best investment we can make to right the wrongs of generations,” said Tim Burgess, a retired Seattle mayor and city councilman credited with creating the Seattle Preschool Program.