Home > Essays > Biden Needs to Pick His Battles… and Universal Pre-K and Free Community Colleges are Not Important or Urgent Needs

Biden Needs to Pick His Battles… and Universal Pre-K and Free Community Colleges are Not Important or Urgent Needs

July 19, 2021

Saturday’s NYTimes featured an article by Erica Green and Madelyn Ngo proclaiming that universal pre-K and free community college would provide a ladder to the middle class for all Americans. 

The President and the Democrats have only so much political capital. Before working on the expansion of the public education infrastructure he and his party should work on the infrastructure of democracy. They need to fill every vacancy in the Executive branch, make certain they have the staff they need to collect the revenues needed to operate the government, and make sure every voter can cast a ballot. Fighting for universal Pre-K legislation that exacerbates the economic divide and free post secondary education that fails to help those who struggle economically will require time and energy that would be better spent shoring up the fundamental operations of the government… especially given the cultural and political landmines that will be set off pursuing Universal Pre-K and attendance at State schools.

Universal Pre-K sounds like an idea whose time is overdue. But in the absence of decent child care for working mothers and a publicly funded pre-school a host of local providers emerged. The ad hoc providers range from chains of private for-profit child care/pre-school operations to local “preschools” operated out of private homes to family members who come to rely on under-the-table payments to babysit. Any suggestion that these services will be ended by government funded preschools with mandatory attendance sets off alarm bells. Compounding this is the reality that in order to offer the kind of full-day child care and programming children need would in virtually all cases require more space in schools than is currently available. Solving this problem would require either more spending or redistricting— both of which pose major challenges for the local public school districts who are typically asked to oversee these programs. The problems with Universal Pre-K are detailed in earlier posts, here, here, and here

Similarly offering all students the opportunity to attend community colleges faces an uphill fight. If the demand for seats exceeds the supply, community colleges will be forced to either expand their existing facilities or come up with the substantial funds needed to offer a robust online program. Expanding post-secondary opportunities would also require post secondary schools to share their proprietary entrance examinations with high schools if they wish to make acceptance conditional on passage of those tests OR expand their array of support services, which would add to their costs. Last but clearly not least is the question of providing job training funds for those who want to gain the training required to secure a high paying job but do not want to spend time completing courser work that is unrelated to their aspiration. 

As the issues raised above indicate, while wildly popular in polls, Universal Pre-K and Post Secondary attendance are fraught with political peril when the rubber hits the road… that is…. unless we can change our thinking about what constitutes schooling and the time frame we follow to deliver it. 

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