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Policy in Action: Universal Preschool within the United States

by Niccole Erickson
Central Michigan University
Universal preschool is a fairly new concept, if only taking into consideration the one
country of the United States. Several other countries across the globe have already adapted this
policy. The idea of universal preschool is to provide educational equity to all young children. The
support and opinions of universal preschool vary at the local, state, and national level. At the
local level, funding and facilities appear to be the most significant barriers. At the state level, the
concern seems to come from a lack of recent data on effects of early childhood education.
Having developed so recently, however, the field of early childhood education is quickly gaining
momentum. At the national level, several states, such as Florida, Georgia, Maine, New York,
Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, have already adopted policies in support of universal
preschool, but have different approaches. Some states, Tennessee for instance, have provided one
approach to universal preschool. According to Kirp (2015), “Since 2004, Tennessee has offered
state-subsidized prekindergarten, enrolling more than 18,000 of the state’s neediest 4-year-olds”
(p. 1). Many attempts at government-funded programs have been in place for years, but are
limited to low-income families.
Many other states provide privatized preschool, but at a much costlier rate. As previously
mentioned, the approaches to these supports vary. (2015) stated, “Public
funding for pre-K programs comes primarily from three sources: states; special education funds
for pre-K (funded by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B, Sec. 619);
and Head Start, the federal pre-K program for children in poverty” (p. 1). New America also
stated, “Because child care subsidies, Head Start, and many state-funded pre-K programs are
open only to families with low incomes, many working families above the income-eligibility

threshold must turn to private, tuition-based pre-K programs and child care centers for the care
and early education and development of their children under the age of 5” (p. 4).
The U.S. is growing culturally at an exponential rate, so its education system should be
consistently reforming to those needs. There is an overlap of a framework in which education
affects both individual children and society and supporting a diverse culture (Lasser, 2011).
These children will become the future of our society, which is an asset to anyone living in the
U.S., with or without preschoolers. By providing families with equal and fair opportunities to
provide education to their children, the U.S. can support an idea that is in the best interest of all
its citizens.
There is overwhelming evidence that preschool provides a positive impact on student
achievement, especially school readiness. Duncan and Gibson-Davis (2006) stated, “Effective
intervention and child care policies should be based on an understanding of the impact on child
well-being of intensive early childhood interventions as well as typical improvements in child
care quality” (p. 627). Provided with universal preschool, children will have their needs met
sooner, enabling a stronger path through their educational career.
In order to meet those needs, most states, including the state of Michigan already offers
government-subsidized programs such as Head Start or Great Start as well as many tuition-based
programs. States are fighting for a better future by providing these services to families. The
problem remains for the middle-class families who carry the burden of wanting to enroll their
children in preschool, but having to choose between education and money. This is why there is a
need for policy change at all levels of government.
At the national level in the United States, several coalitions are involved with Early
Childhood Education, including the United State Department of Education, the National
Association for the Education of Young Children, and the National Coalition for Campus
Children’s Centers. At the state level, for instance in Michigan, coalitions such as the Michigan

Department of Education and the Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children
support early childhood while major actors such as state senators and state representatives
advocate for political support. At the local levels, coalitions such as intermediate school districts
work to support early childhood within their communities. These different forms of support
include funding, professional development, and assessment. It is rather apparent that the U.S. has
already taken a form of action to support universal preschool by establishing these groups. It is
time that more states join the cause.
During a personal phone interview, a senior policy advisor within the Office of Early
Learning, a branch of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department
of Education mentioned that as a nation, we will need funding from Congress and increased
support at the state level from legislators, governors, and mayors. He added that we as a country
have to be willing to make that investment. Some people believe in universal preschool and some
do not believe that it is their federal responsibility. Getting support from both sides of
government – democratic and republican, will be our biggest challenge. Although opposing sides
may have different views of early childhood, logic will determine any misplacement of its value.
Now is the time to rally for support.
The best course of action for solving the issue of universal preschool at both the state and
local levels should be to offer free, voluntary preschool for all four-year-olds additionally to the
government-funded programs that are already in place. Not only would this policy change
support young children in their education, but it would create a fair opportunity for all children,
no matter their families’ economic status. The state of Michigan, along with any other state that
has not yet created a plan, should agree to propose to include preschool within the same budget
as K-12, keeping in mind that universal preschool contains benefits that are grounded in

research, is a logical solution to many issues within the United States, and offers plenty of past
and continuing data to support it as the preferable approach.

Duncan, G. J. & Gibson-Davis, C. M. (2006). Connecting child care quality to child outcomes:
Drawing policy lessons from nonexperimental data. Evaluation Review, 30(5), 611-630.
Retrieved from
Kirp, D. L. (2015, October 3). Does pre-k make any difference? The New York Times. Retrieved
Lasser, J. & Fite, K. (2011). Universal preschool’s promise: Success in early childhood and
beyond. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39(3), 169-173. doi: 10.1007/s10643-011-0
New America. (2015). Pre-k funding overview. Atlas. Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Education Senior Policy Advisor. (personal communication, February 2,