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An Unsurprising Finding: Segregation Starts in Pre-School

April 30, 2015

Yesterday’s Washington Post published an article describing the unsurprising findings of a new report issued by researchers at the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University:

While states more than doubled their investments in preschool between 2003 and 2013, when 1.3 million three- and four-year-olds were enrolled at a cost of $5.4 billion, most classrooms were economically segregated, the researchers found.

“If every child could be in a high-quality program, we could all go home and not worry about it,” said Jeanne Reid, who wrote the report with Sharon Lynn Kagan. It was funded by The Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, a civil rights organization. “But a lot of programs are not high quality, and low-income children are most likely to be in low-quality programs.”

Anyone who has followed the expansion of pre-school education closely should not be surprised by this finding: “Universal” Pre-Kindergarten is only “Universal” for districts serving low income school districts and since most “Universal” programs are poorly funded they are generally limited to the most economically challenged school districts. Moreover, as many previous posts note, requiring all children to attend publicly funded full-day pre-school will require huge sums of money which, in turn, will require increased taxes. To make matters worse, many parents would push-back if schooling was mandated at an earlier age because parents do not want their child to be housed in an institutional setting (e.g. school) when they already have arrangements with a relative or more conveniently located child-care center. Finally, as I’ve witnessed in my efforts to offer after-school child care, there are a large number of voters who operate and staff child care centers, many of whom do not have the credentials needed to serve in a publicly funded preschool program but all of whom are satisfactorily and economically providing care for children in either community or neighborhood. All of this makes it politically challenging to mandate preschool for all children and results in our current situation where only low income parents avail themselves of publicly funded pre-school.

The article makes a compelling case for having all children attend an economically diverse preschool, but it overlooks the sad reality that economic segregation is a feature of our housing patterns, a feature that pervades K-12 education as well as preschool education. If affluent parents are unwilling to allow affordable homes to be built in their community, and are unwilling to admit children from less affluent communities into their schools, and are unwilling to increase their taxes so that the programs offered to preschoolers in poor communities and neighborhoods are “high quality”, we will remain stuck where we are today… and economic justice will be denied.

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