February 20, 2006

Universal Preschool: Yes or No?

In a previous diary, I wrote about Illinois Democrats passing progressive legislations to better improved people lives. One of the topic of the diary was universal preschool proposed by Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. In one local paper they describe Governor Blagojevich budget proposals which include universal preschool as ‘feel-good measures’. Republican candidates for Illinois Governor criticize plan as desperate.
Republican Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz called the proposal a gimmick.

"He has neglected that problems facing our schools for three years and now on the cusp of a re-election, this is a last-ditch, desperate effort to correct his mistakes," said Gidwitz, a former chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.
State Sen. Bill Brady calls for local control of school funding money without mandates.
"If we had the resources, however they are obtained, we should give the resources to schools with no strings attached so they can decide how to spend it," Brady said.
Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, “We all love kids” but ...
"We all love kids, and we'd all love this to occur, but only if we could afford it," said state Treasurer and Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka.
Judy Baar Topinka continues ...
Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, another Republican candidate for governor, said Blagojevich keeps "coming up with all these big, expensive, huge `warm-fuzzies,' usually involving children, and not really coming up with ways to pay for them."
Hypocrisy during an election year has no limits, Illinois Republicans are claiming we can not afford big, expensive, huge `warm-fuzzies,' policies while Congressional Republicans support new Medicare prescription drug plan which is mostly a big giveaway to their political donors which is the biggest ‘warm-fuzzies’ policy coming out of Conservative controlled Washington in years. Republican State Sen. Bill Brady attacks Blagojevich proposal while Congressional Republican support No Child Left Behind which has restrictions on how schools can spend federal money.

Leaving aside the election year rhetoric, is universal preschool good and sound policy? There was some disagreement in this diary if universal preschool was a good proposal or not. Senator Tom Carper writing in Democratic Leadership Council Blueprint Magazine supports universal preschool.
If you had an opportunity to make an investment that you knew would bring a 7-to-1 return, you'd do it in a heartbeat. We should think the same way as citizens and taxpayers. We ought to jump at the opportunity to make public investments that produce broad public benefits. Universal preschool represents just such an opportunity. [..]

Studies of high-quality preschool programs in North Carolina and Michigan have found that public investments in such programs could, in fact, deliver a 7-to-1 return in the long run, in the form of increased productivity and decreased social spending.
Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, the chair of the DLC, also calls for universal preschool in this state. Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Nation praise Governor Blagojevich call for universal preschool.
It is universally acknowledged that preschool plays a critical role in the educational and social development of children. Studies have shown that those who attend preschool are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school, and more than 40 percent less likely to be placed in a special education program or to be arrested as a juvenile. Yet not one state in the union currently offers universal pre-k.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevic wants to change this. This past Wednesday, Blagojevich proposed in his new state budget a provision that would grant all three and four year-olds access to preschool, regardless of income. While Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida currently offer pre-k to four year-olds, Illinois would become the first state to provide genuinely universal preschool in the country's history.
Research confirms preschool benefits
Children born into extreme poverty have a much better chance of succeeding in school if they receive a structured, high-quality preschool education. [..]

Researchers at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the UCLID Center at the University of Pittsburgh tracked the progress of more than 1,000 children enrolled in the initiative from 1997 to 2000 in Braddock, Wilkinsburg, Sto-Rox, East Liberty, South Side, Highlands School District, the Hill District, Homewood and Steel Valley.

The outcomes mirror 30 years of national research showing that early intervention puts poor children on a level playing field with their more affluent peers.
Progressive, liberals and centrist Democrats seem to agree with the policy of universal preschool. Do grassroots Democrats support universal preschool? How about patents, seniors, so to be patents, Hispanics, African Americans, teachers, everyone? Is universal preschool good policy leaving aside the politics of the proposals? Please share some of your personal experiences.


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