VOICES: Is universal preschool the answer to falling test scores?

A NIEERS report showed that attending a quality preschool could reduce the achievement gap by 41% in reading and 27% in math for low-income students. However, less than 54.9% of Ohio’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool. As an early childhood educator, I have seen the kindergarten readiness tests shift, expecting more from young children. Gone are the times when we learned our alphabet, colors, shapes, and numbers in kindergarten. Children are now expected to enter kindergarten knowing these and to have skills such as sharing, turn-taking, tying shoes, and name-writing. Some children can learn these skills at home, while others learn them in preschool. Nevertheless, what about the 45.1% of children in Ohio who are not in preschool? Can Ohio afford to continue letting our children — our future employees and employers — continue to fall behind?

Providing an opportunity for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Ohio to access high-quality preschool will require funding. However, it is already happening in multiple states which fund it in various ways. Some use the K-12 funding formula, while others use lottery funds, sports betting taxes, tobacco taxes, and federal expansion grants. The funding is there, and the cost-to-benefit ratio supports universal preschool. A study from the UpJohn Institute found that for every $1 spent, the gain for the community was $1.84.

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