NIEER Outlines Plan to Achieve Universal Preschool in the US

NIEER Plan Expands Preschool by 5 Million; Federal and State/Local Governments Would Share Costs

Universal high-quality preschool is achievable within the next 30 years if the federal government partners with state and local governments to share costs under a two-part plan proposed by NIEER.

Public preschools in the United States currently serve only 1.8 million children. Critically, the NIEER plan prioritizes raising quality and enrolling unserved children in low-income families first. Research demonstrates payoffs to investing in pre-K depend on high quality and ensuring the most disadvantaged children are served.

“At its current pace and without federal government leadership, the United States won’t reach all children with free preschool before 2100,” said NIEER Founder and Senior co-Director Steven Barnett. “This proposed cost-sharing partnership provides a measured and predictable path to universal high-quality preschool within a reasonable time frame.”

NIEER’s plan calls on the federal government to match state and local-level investments in high-quality preschool for children under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This focus will expand high-quality preschool to 2.5 million more low-income 3- and 4-year olds by 2040.

Building on this foundation, state and local governments would be able to expand their preschool programs to reach all 3- and 4-year olds by 2050 and achieve universal high-quality preschool in all 50 states.

The cost-sharing plan would enable states to set high preschool quality standards, provide children full-day preschool 180 days a year, and support competitive salaries for well-qualified teachers.

The plan would cost the federal government an additional $7.7 billion and state and local governments $13.3 billion during the first four years. A steady annual increase to reach full enrollment of children from low-income families would result in $15.5 billion in new federal funding and $26.7 billion in new state and local funding by the 2040 school year.

State and local governments currently spend more than $10.5 billion for their preschool programs, but preschool investment in most states is inadequate to support high-quality programs, according to NIEER Early Childhood Education Policy Specialist Karin Garver, who estimated the cost of quality for each state.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, conducts and disseminates independent research and analysis to inform early childhood education policy.

CORRECTION: NIEER’s Funding High-Quality Pre-K for All fact sheet has been corrected to fix a typographical error. The estimated timeframe to provide 2.5 million additional preschool seats serving all low-income children is 20 years, ending in SY40. The timeframe to provide a total of 5 million preschool seats serving all children and to achieve universal preschool in the United States is an additional 10 years, ending in SY50. The corrected fact sheet is available here.