Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children


What’s the cost of not having universal pre-K?

The Center for American Progress has an $83 billion answer.

“Based on research that quantifies long-term economic outcomes in states that have high-quality preschool, this analysis concludes the United States would expect to see a net benefit of more than $83.3 billion for each one-year cohort of 4-year-olds,” the center says in its article, “The Cost of Inaction on Universal Preschool.”

“In other words, every year that policymakers delay a universal preschool investment, the United States loses billions of dollars that come from preschool’s economic benefits—such as less frequent grade retention and a reduced need for special education.”

That would be a huge savings for taxpayers.

Early education also has substantial economic benefits for children themselves:

“Preschool also leads to increased earnings down the road,” the center’s article notes. “When children enter school ready to learn, later experiences in elementary and secondary school can help them sustain and amplify their early gains. Maintaining this positive trajectory makes it more likely that children will graduate from high school. In fact, increased wages associated with high school graduation represent the biggest source of monetary benefits from preschool.”

Individual states would also gain:

“States with less developed preschool programs stand to gain the most, especially those with large populations. For example, California serves about 35 percent of 4-year-old children in programs that on average meet fewer than half of the NIEER quality benchmarks. By increasing enrollment to serve 75 percent of children and improving program quality, the authors estimate that California could see an additional $9.7 billion in total benefits over its estimated current benefits of $2.7 billion.”

Unfortunately, “the majority of U.S. children do not have access to high quality preschool…”

But this fact is fuel that advocates can use to encourage elected officials to make progress towards universal access to pre-K.

Here in Massachusetts, a bill in the State House — An Act Ensuring High Quality Pre-Kindergarten Education – would move the state closer to having universal pre-K by establishing a grant program to support high-quality preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds in a mixed-delivery (public and private) system. Funding would phase in over time, starting with communities that have preschool expansion plans and large numbers of high-needs students. Currently, 15 communities have preschool plans.

If you’re a Massachusetts resident, contact your legislators today and let them know that expanding pre-K isn’t just great for kids, it would also be an economic victory for the state.

As the Center for American Progress concludes:

“Although critics often cite that scaling up preschool is too expensive, this analysis shows that maintaining the status quo means losing significant economic benefits over time. States are already leading the charge on scaling up programs and continuing to improve quality. It is time to ensure that all children have access to high-quality preschool—no matter where they live—with a federal investment to support state preschool expansion.”