Biden’s universal preschool plan ‘game-changer’ for Mass, but final version might look very different
“I honestly think this is a game changer,” said Amy O’Leary, director of Strategies for Children, an advocacy group. “Research tells us that for families who need more support, we see better results in the short and long term.”
In an address to Congress last week, Biden said his $ 1.8 trillion plan for American families would add four years of free public education – two years of preschool and two years of community college – to 12 years guaranteed for all children.
“Twelve years is not enough today to compete in the 21st century,” Biden said.
If passed, the package, which sets aside $ 200 billion for universal preschool education and $ 225 billion to make care for children under 3 more affordable, would represent the largest U.S. investment in education. childcare and preschool education, experts said.
To fund these and other benefits for children, including additional tax credits for families with children, Biden has proposed closing tax loopholes, stepping up tax enforcement on the rich, and increasing tax rates for the richest 1% of Americans.
There would be no income cap for the program, Biden administration officials said.
It could be a politically tough sell for Republicans and moderate Democrats, who would prefer a smaller package prioritizing families most in need, some political observers have said.
“If this were to pass, they would really have to cut it and cut the price pretty astronomically,” said Liz Mair, a Republican political consultant. “There is a lot of unease among many voters about giving benefits to the rich.”
But Democrats see universal child care and child care as top priorities, especially after the pandemic has decimated early childhood education providers and made it difficult for many parents to do their jobs.
“I think the question is not: ‘Can he pass?’ But rather: ‘How can we not make this investment in families and in our future?’ Said US Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The arguments in favor of preschool education are well established: the the human brain forms 90% of its neural architecture in the first five years of its life, and research showed that access to high-quality pre-K affects not only children’s learning in early childhood, but also their future academic, behavioral and professional success.
In Boston, however, preschool in private centers can cost $ 21,000 or more per year, rivaling the cost of tuition at public colleges. Boston Public Schools offer free pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds in schools and community centers, although there aren’t enough seats yet to accommodate all children that age. Only a very small number of places are available for children from 3 years old.
Unequal access to preschool education leads kindergarten children to present at drastically different stages of learning, educators said. Children who have attended preschool are often more independent and ready to learn, while other students struggle in school, said Alliberthe Elysee-Brown, kindergarten teacher at Henry L. Elementary School. Roxbury’s Higginson K-2.
“You see the benefits when children are exposed to [preschool]”Said Elysée-Brown. “They have certain problem-solving skills and certain socio-emotional skills that have developed just by being with other students and other adults.”
Biden’s plan “would level the playing field for families who can’t afford [preschool],” she said.
Sarah Malkenson, a mother from Jamaica Plain, said her two young children have benefited from attending private preschools in their neighborhood in several ways: they made friends, experienced learning to a teacher, created art and learned to understand stories. Although she and her husband, a software product manager, were able to shoulder the costs, she said, it is still their second expense after housing.
“We spend a lot of money on it, but we see it as an invaluable resource,” she said. “If it allows families who previously couldn’t have it to get it, that would be a huge benefit to them.”
Biden’s plan, administration says note, plans the government to subsidize tuition fees for children attending kindergarten in public schools, private daycares and community centers. The memo says the investment would prioritize low-income families and communities of color.
“Where we would notice it the earliest is in the communities that need it most,” said Nonie Lesaux, who chairs the state council for early childhood care and education and is Co-Director of the Zaentz Early Education Initiative at Harvard.
Nationwide, only 20 percent of families eligible for subsidized care can find a niche; expand funding would create more seats, Lesaux said. It would also help make early education more affordable for lower and middle class families, she said, whose current options are “either subsidized or extremely expensive, with no middleman.”
In Massachusetts, about a quarter of families earning between $ 30,000 and $ 125,000 do not pay for child care for their 3 and 4 year old children, and another third pay for informal and unauthorized child care, typically at a parent’s home where enrichment and learning are not subject to quality standards, according to Harvard research.
Many families don’t earn enough money to pay for tuition, but earn too much to qualify for Head Start, a free federal and state preschool program for people living below the federal poverty line.
The state offers vouchers for preschoolers, but has a two-year waiting list and excludes families who are paid in cash or lack other documents, said Jackie Herrera, who works with low-income families in Waltham and Newton as coordinator of ParentChild +, a program. which aims to fill the void for families without access to early education through weekly home visits, educational toys and children’s books.
Large sections of families do not have access to preschool education materials, she said.
“We are trying to fill in some gaps,” Herrera said. “That’s not to say that’s about what a preschooler would get.”
Diana Argueda, a mother from Waltham who works at McDonald’s, said she and her cook husband together make about $ 42,000 a year, too much to qualify for Head Start. But they couldn’t afford to pay for kindergarten.
So, for the past few years, she has spent her days in a grueling routine of waking up early to take her son, now 5, to the Waltham Public Library for story time, singing, and playgroups. for children, then work the night shift at McDonald’s from the age of 4. pm to midnight. She also received crucial support from ParentChild +.
“It would have been a lot easier and would have had a lot more benefits” if the family had had access to kindergarten, Argueda said in Spanish. “At school, they have a structure, you can be sure that their child receives everything they need, they can learn a lot more than what a mother can teach at home, and I could have to have a schedule that allowed me to have more time with my family.
Her son is starting kindergarten in September and she hopes he will be prepared. She wished he could have attended kindergarten, however.
“It’s really important that everyone has access to preschool education,” Argueda said. “It would give these kids the structure for success from a young age.”
Naomi Martin can be contacted at [email protected]