Opinion

Opinion | Martin J. Walsh and Tommy Chang

Guaranteed pre-K gives kids a strong start

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“We are appealing to leadership at the State House. . . to work with cities and towns to expand access to high-quality pre-kindergarten classrooms,” write Martin J. Walsh and Tommy Chang.

Boston families whose children turn 4 by September will enter into a stressful ritual in the coming months. Checking the mail, making phone calls, comparing notes on social media: They’ll wait to see if their child gets a pre-kindergarten or “K1” seat in a Boston Public School.

What’s at stake is access to a nationally renowned full-day early childhood education program that’s proved to boost long-term academic, social, and emotional development and close achievement gaps. What’s causing the stress is that we lack the local resources to offer it to all our city’s children.

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The result is that many families start their child’s experience with public education feeling disappointment and frustration. For some, this is the moment they begin thinking seriously about whether to stay in the city or move out.

Even more significantly, for many children, it’s a moment that can make the difference between success and struggle in the years ahead. BPS data show that children who go to K1 outperform their peers in subsequent years — regardless of race or poverty. Harvard researchers independently concluded that our program’s gains were “the largest found to date in evaluations of large-scale public pre-kindergarten programs.”

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It’s no wonder that other major cities send delegations to study what teachers and children are doing in Boston’s K1 classrooms. And it’s all the more disheartening that the funding gap turns one of our greatest successes into a source of inequity and confusion for many families.

That’s why we’ve made it our priority to expand pre-kindergarten — at this same level of excellence — until every 4-year-old in the city is guaranteed a seat.

Despite budgetary constraints, we added seats in Boston schools each of the last two years. And with help from local foundations and federal grants, we extended the model into nurturing classrooms in trusted community nonprofits. This year we’ll bring pre-K education to even more kids. But all our creativity and collaboration still leaves us well short of the funds we need to provide universal access. A high-quality program takes top-notch teacher training and classrooms that meet the needs of young children.

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We’ve stretched municipal and community funding as far as they can go. We need help. And we’re not alone. Lawrence, Salem, Attleboro, and other cities and towns face similar challenges.

It’s a statewide issue. So we are asking the state for help. We are appealing to leadership at the State House, and every legislator, to work with cities and towns to expand access to high-quality pre-kindergarten classrooms.

We know state leaders share this priority with us. And we know that legislators have proposed smart ideas for making it a reality, by targeting support to cities and towns that need it. Now it’s time to fund it: to work through the state budget process, this year, to make a transformative investment in our children, our communities, and our Commonwealth’s future.

The conversation surrounding public education features passionate disagreements. What we have before us in early childhood education is common ground. If we put our energies into this vital area of agreement, if we come together and seize this opportunity, we know the difference it will make in the lives of thousands of children and families. And there is no telling what other kinds of progress such a collective victory might unlock.

We ask everyone who cares about our children to come together behind this powerful, proven model. Let’s live up to our state’s reputation as the world leader in learning. Let’s put Boston and Massachusetts at the forefront of early education, where we belong. And let’s give all our kids an equal chance at success.

Martin J. Walsh is the mayor of Boston. Tommy Chang is the superintendent of the Boston Public Schools.
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