If Ted Strickland becomes governor, the Democrat will follow in the footsteps of Illinois’s and Kentucky’s current governors and push for universal pre-K. And why not? Early-years education programs are a winner politically. An October 2005 survey by Hart Research Associates found that 53 percent of America’s voters would be more likely to support a political candidate who favors pre-K programs.
But beyond politics, some research suggests the policy makes sense. The RAND Corporation’s study “Scaling Up High-Quality Pre-K” points to several decades of research that suggests high quality early education programs can produce significant long-term benefits, including narrowing, although not closing, the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.
But does his rhetoric square with reality?
Ohio currently directs about $68 million of state and federal funds on preschool programs for children of disadvantaged families, serving about 10,750 three and four-year olds. The state has two pre-K programs: the Public Preschool Program and a much larger state-run Head Start program. Strickland’s platform calls for adding $100 million in the first two years of his term to provide “every child a fair start through access to ‘high-quality’ care and education.” This is good politics, but $100 million dollars over two years wouldn’t come close to providing funding for universal access – if universal means every Ohio child aged three and four, or even a significant portion of them, are to be in high quality pre-K programs.
Run the numbers: according to a 2005 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland touted by the Strickland website, quality pre-K programs cost about $5,900 a child. A $100 million increase would enable about 8,500 more Ohio children a year to attend free pre-K programs. Using numbers from the Federal Reserve Bank study, Ohio could reasonably assume that there are about 43,000 3-year olds that would participate in a “universal preschool program.” Using this number, it is fair to assume there are also about 40,000 4-year olds that would participate in such programs. This means $100 million for 8,500 slots is a good start, but it is a far cry from providing universal access to high-quality programs.
“Going to Scale with High-Quality Early Education,” by Rachel Christina and J. Goodman, Rand Corporation, August 2005.
“Should Ohio Invest in Universal Preschooling?” by Clive Belfield, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, February 2005.
“The State of Preschool,” National Institute for Early Education Research, 2005.