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The Argument

Should Mass. invest in universal pre-kindergarten?

Yes

Karen N. Frederic, Executive director of Community Teamwork, a Lowell-based nonprofit that serves the low-income community in 63 cities and towns in Middlesex and Essex counties

Karen N. Frederick
Karen N. Frederickhandout

Universal pre-K simply means that all children, regardless of family income or ability, will have access to quality programs that are governed by high standards; serve 3- and 4 year-olds; and focus on school readiness and positive outcomes for children.

There is an abundance of evidence-based research on the impact of high quality pre-school education that clearly demonstrate the short and long-term effects on children’s early learning and their overall growth and development. The National Institute for Early Education and Research points out that children enrolled in quality pre-K programs often show significant gains in math and early literacy skills; strong social/emotional and cognitive development; and are better prepared for kindergarten.

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Why does that matter? Because children who are ready for kindergarten are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and succeed academically and in life.

The positive effects that quality pre-K education has are well documented, but there are many other benefits. Working parents of young children often struggle to make ends meet and the cost of child care can be prohibitive. Universal pre-K would help parents increase their earning potential and build a firmer economic foundation for their families, leading to favorable economic outcomes not just for one family but for society as a whole. Investment in universal pre-K — combined with the opportunity to engage the entire family — will have a significant return on investment. Research has shown the cost benefit analysis of universal pre-K with a specific focus on workforce development for parents can save taxpayers an estimated $7 to $10 for every dollar invested.

Universal pre-K is growing in states across the country such as Georgia and South Carolina. For example, Georgia reports that 82 percent of former universal pre-K students had higher scores on third grade readiness than those that did not participate in the program; South Carolina saw overall improvements in school readiness rates for 81 percent.

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Massachusetts is fortunate to have one of the best community-based early education systems in the country to build a universal pre-K program. Our preschool system boasts the highest percentage of nationally accredited programs in the country and was recently recognized by the Obama administration as one of the leading systems in the country. Universal pre-K is proving to be an investment that delivers lasting benefits for children, parents, and communities, and Massachusetts would be wise to make that investment.

No

Michael McNamara, Chairman of the Dracut School Committee

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamarahandout

Massachusetts is a leader in the nation on many educational measures. Our student assessment system — MCAS — served as a model for the nation in the most recent years as the country moved toward a common assessment under Common Core.

Much discussion has been made in professional education circles of late regarding the efficacy of universal pre-kindergarten in our public schools. As an elementary educator/administrator throughout my career, I do support goals that serve to provide educational opportunity and support for our early learners. But, at some point, even well-meaning educators must begin to examine these goals from a 10,000 foot perspective and weigh the cost vs. the benefit.

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Two states, Georgia and Oklahoma, offer taxpayer funded pre-school for all 4-year-old early learners. Longitudinal studies have shown little sustainable gains — especially beyond first grade — as evidenced by National Center for Education Statistics compiled in these states as compared to other states that do not offer universal pre-K.

Billions of federal tax dollars are spent on programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start in support of the Obama administration's "Cradle to Career" initiative. It has been estimated that nearly three-quarters of 4-year-olds access some form of early intervention programs, either through federal or state supported programs or by private pay community-based programs such as daycare centers or church programs. Why should communities be asked to absorb yet another unfunded mandate, especially when there are always strings attached in accepting such funds?

Experience has shown us that dwindling state reimbursements is the trend in Massachusetts. That circumstance leaves local communities footing a growing share of the cost of providing these mandates. Well meaning legislators want increased services for taxpayers and families, but stagnant revenue growth cannot keep up with demand.

Many communities still do not provide even full day kindergarten. Those that do often charge a fee to parents of $3,000 or more to access the full-day program instead of the mandated half-day kindergarten. Why consider Universal pre-K when Massachusetts lacks the desire to mandate full day kindergarten in our public schools?

The evidence points to the fact that mandated universal pre-K is another overreaching attempt by government to provide a largely expensive program for which it is ill-prepared to fund, a program that provides marginal long-term educational benefits.

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Globe correspondent Brenda Buote solicited opinions for this exchange. She can be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.