All children need quality preschools
By Cecilia Zalkind Parents, teachers, and child advocates across the nation will be holding events in the coming weeks to draw attention to a glaring unmet need: quality early education that gives young learners the foundation they need to succeed in school.
By Cecilia Zalkind
Parents, teachers, and child advocates across the nation will be holding events in the coming weeks to draw attention to a glaring unmet need: quality early education that gives young learners the foundation they need to succeed in school.
The goal is to gain support for a federal proposal to expand public preschool to disadvantaged children across the United States. New Jersey should lead the charge.
Fifteen years ago, our state first launched high-quality preschools in some of its most disadvantaged communities. We understand that low-income children begin kindergarten far behind their wealthier peers and that quality preschool helps level the playing field. We also know that learning begins long before a child enters kindergarten. If we want our children to succeed in school, we have to provide early education, starting at 3 years old.
New Jersey's preschools are working. A recent study by the National Institute for Early Education Research shows that students who attended our high-quality preschools are, by fourth or fifth grade, three-quarters of an academic year ahead of students who did not attend a quality preschool. These children were less likely to be held back a grade or require costly special education.
The federal proposal to expand preschool is a bold investment in the future of our children and of our country. New Jersey can provide a recipe for success for federal preschool expansion - trained teachers, small classes, quality curriculum, and a partnership between school districts and private community-based preschools that expands access to more children.
New Jersey successfully provides preschool to thousands of children living in our most impoverished neighborhoods, including districts like Camden and Burlington City. Yet this early education is still unavailable to thousands of others, including an estimated 9,000 children in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester counties. In fact, just 35 districts receive state funding for quality, full-day preschool, despite a five-year-old mandate that the state fund preschool for all disadvantaged young learners across New Jersey.
The federal proposal would help New Jersey meet that goal by providing states with funds to expand quality preschool.
That is why state leaders should strongly support the federal plan. Gov. Christie and legislators can show that support with a concrete action - adding $10 million to the proposed state budget to fund full-day, high-quality preschools in districts that are unable to offer them.
Each year, New Jersey spends billions of dollars on public education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. New Jersey has long recognized that quality preschool leverages that substantial investment, especially for low-income families.
This is an investment that pays enormous dividends for children, families, communities, and taxpayers. It is an investment in our children's future - an investment we can no longer afford to delay.