If we truly want America to build back better, public preschool is the solution for post-pandemic restoration and future advancement. Without access to essential childcare, a lacking necessity that hurt America before the pandemic, the U.S. will never improve past this current economic and social hurdle. Investment in a public preschool system for three and four-year-olds is the attainable catalyst our country needs to have people, especially women, return to work, lower nationwide education gaps, and ensure a viable future workforce.
Presently, parents of young children are significantly disadvantaged in their return to work efforts. They must balance protecting children that are too young to get vaccinated while coping with unreliable child care and unpredictable schedules, especially due to Covid-19. Providing safe, reliable child care at no additional cost to families helps restore our economy and ensure its steadiness as parents can seek out jobs they previously did not have time for.
Furthermore, accessible preschool bridges the worsening gender disparity in the workplace. Women, who have an increasingly higher unemployment rate than men, are now additionally burdened with caring for their children amid a pandemic, even when they need an income to sustain their families. Lack of access to child care should not be why parents cannot support their families.
We already know the benefits of early developmental education for children. Early childhood education improves cognitive and emotional development, self-regulation, and academic achievement of children ages three to four years, positively impacting the rest of their lives. On a nationwide scale, these factors reap several benefits, such as reductions in crime, welfare dependency, child abuse and neglect, savings from reduced grade retention and health care costs, and better jobs with higher earnings throughout employment years for children participating in these programs.
President Biden has attempted to improve early childhood education by providing nearly $24 billion in Child Care Stabilization Grants in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, along with attempts to give states the option to provide families with access to child care programs in the Build Back Better Act. However, if we truly want to see institutionalized progress in America, we must federally mandate that states offer public preschool programs.
Many opposing individuals believe public preschool comes with a hefty, personal price tag. Missouri state Sen. Dave Schatz, a Republican and president pro tem of the Missouri Senate, declared that “any new federal program that would require Missouri taxpayers to cover the costs is…a non-starter.” However, considering President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, it is manageable for the Federal Government to provide states money so taxpayers making under $400,000 a year will not see an increase in taxes, which will persuade those reluctant of the mandate. Therefore a funded mandate from Congress guaranteeing that states offer public preschool is the best way for this idea to receive federal funding and support from the representatives of American families.
As in established public education systems, each state will have flexibility in the various education formats that most benefit their residents. States could implement the preschools in a similar district format to how current public schools function and model after programs like the successful Headstart. With this investment in childhood education, including mandated wage increases for child care workers to encourage more people to work in the field, Americans will reap present and future benefits.
Public schooling has been around since 1790 in the United States. It is not a new concept and, while flawed, is one of the most critical systems our country has. It is time we take the next step in advancing American education and creating an equitable chance for all families to be successful.