Over two-thirds of Americans support increased public funding for universal preschool programs, though experts find little evidence that this education policy works.
A new poll found that 70 percent of respondents supported or strongly supported a deficit-neutral plan to fund universal preschool through a 94 percent increase on cigarette taxes. And although President Obama is the chief proponent of such a policy, 60 percent of Republicans support it, according to the poll.
The poll’s authors concluded that voters were Americans were highly supportive of immediate legislative action on universal preschool.
“There is solid support for doing more in the abstract, and a great deal more for a specific proposal to make significant investments in this arena,” wrote Lori Weigel, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, and Jay Campbell, senior vice president at Hart Research Associates.
Obama has repeatedly invoked universal preschool as a common sense investment for the nation’s future. The idea appeared in his State of the Union address and budget proposal for 2014 earlier this year, and again last week during his major speech on the economy at Knox College in Illinois.
“I’ll keep pushing to make high-quality preschool available to every four year-old in America — not just because we know it works for our kids, but because it provides a vital support system for working parents,” he said in the speech.
But experts who have studied outcomes of pre-K programs such as federal Head Start — which has cost $150 billion since 1965 — found little evidence of lasting gains. Kids who participate in Head Start are no better off than their peers by the time they reach the fifth grade.
Much of the pro-universal preschool argument is based upon the results of an outdated and limited review of Head Start that only studied 100 different kids, wrote Grover Whitehurts, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.
“I expect that the Obama education team as well as the general public is under the sway of the preschool lobby, which cherry picks its research results,” he wrote in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Universal preschool is also a win for teachers unions, according to Whitehurst.
“In addition I expect the Obama administration sees their proposal for Preschool for All as a political win given the general public’s support of preschool and their requirement that states that accept federal preschool funds pay pre-K teachers at the same level as elementary school teachers,” he wrote. “This teacher pay provision is very popular with teacher unions.”
Studies of state-based programs in Georgia and Oklahoma also failed to uncover noticeable social and intellectual benefits in universal preschool.
Even so, states increased funding for universal preschool programs this year, and will likely do so again next year, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
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