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What do we invest in the country’s youngest? Little to nothing

July 13, 2016
AccessEconomics and FinanceGovernance and AccountabilityQuality and CurriculumState & Local
Lillian Mongeau
The Hechinger Report

How the U.S. became one of the worst countries in the developed world for children under five

In fact, the fate of all children is largely determined by their first years on this planet. Forming healthy relationships with adults early on lays the foundation for future healthy relationships. Exposure to language through stories, songs and conversations sets the stage for academic achievement. Playing outside to master gross motor skills, creating art to master fine motor skills, pretending to be a doctor, chef or firefighter to learn teamwork, building a tower of blocks to learn basic physics lessons — all of these activities are critical preparation for a successful school and adult life. The most straightforward way to ensure all children have such experiences is to provide free or affordable high-quality preschool for them when they are 3- and 4-year-olds. The idea is not as radical as it sounds. The U.S. has even provided universal public preschool before, for a few years during World War II. That program ended in 1946. Since then, a growing body of research has demonstrated the value of high-quality preschool for both children and their communities. Nearly every industrialized country has recognized that value and begun offering a version of universal public preschool for its children. Not the U.S. . . 

But though many have acknowledged the need for forward motion on preschool expansion, the overall pace of change has been glacial. “At the current rate, it will be another 50 years before states can reach all low-income children at age four, and it will take 150 years to reach 75 percent of all four-year-olds,” writes Steven Barnett, director the National Institute for Early Education Research, in his introduction to the 2015 State of Preschool Yearbook.