The American Institutes for Research took a look at formal early childhood education this year, or as most of us know it, preschool. They found that approximately 48 percent of children from families below the poverty level participate in any form of preschool, compared to 72 percent of children whose parents make twice the poverty level.
Combine that with the Hamilton Project’s 20-year analysis of Head Start, the federal preschool program, which indicated that attending preschool shows not only lifelong cognitive benefits in adults, but increased potential in the next generation. Students of early education programs grow up to be better parents, their children more likely to do well in school.
The United States still has no universal preschool program (Head Start is location-based and aimed at low-income families), but many states have their own. And a few do preschool very well.
Michigan has the Great Start Readiness Program, which is 30 years old and currently serves nearly 40,000 four-year-olds. Theirs is a full-day program, with one teacher per eight kids, requiring full teaching certification and early childhood specialization. They encourage family involvement, which is one of the most important things in early childhood education.
West Virginia’s program is known as WV Pre-K and is much newer, only founded in 2002. It is the only state to offer state-funded preschool to the entire population, not only at-risk groups, and currently serves more than seventy-five percent of the state’s four-year-olds, with additional space for three-year-olds with special needs. Compared to Michigan, they have slightly larger classes with more students-per-teacher, and their full-day programs are mostly only four days a week, but parents are pushing to change that.
Washington State has the Washington Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. It is the smallest of the best, only serving families who live below the poverty line (earning less than $26,000 per year for a family of four). Along with education, they also offer “wraparound services” which include health, dental, and vision screenings for children and support for their families. Beginning in 2017, WECEA will also improve a quality rating and improvement system for pre-K and child care providers.