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Commentary: Why we need free, universal preschool for all children

I applaud President Joe Biden’s proposal to provide free, universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-old children in this country.

According to a recent Associated Press article, the $200 billion investment, if approved by Congress, is sure to have sweeping, substantial and serious implications for children and their families.

As a professor who has prepared hundreds of early childhood educators, designed curriculum for young children and worked in high-poverty schools, I understand the compelling need for this legislation and all that it promises.

The fact that the “American Families Plan” addresses universal preschool for all little ones — and not just those impacted by poverty and/or developmental delays, as is currently the case — is absolutely essential and appropriate. As a voluntary option, open to all, there is much to anticipate.

Linda Karges-Bone (copy)

Linda Karges-Bone

For most families, high-quality child care is a luxury that can quickly sap resources, leaving working parents to source often unreliable, unsatisfactory settings and caregivers. In any given city, preschool that meets the creative and developmental needs of young children costs an average of $11,000 to $20,000 per year. With today’s exorbitant costs for housing, transportation and medical care, such early educational opportunities quickly become a budget breaker, even for families that want to prioritize their children’s early learning experiences.

True, this is a lot of money for any nation, even one as affluent as our own. But let me assure anyone who has concerns that every penny will be worth it. The “word gap” that puts and keeps so many young children in a literacy quicksand and the growing body of evidence that points to a need for social emotional learning to stem the rising tide of mental illness, bullying and anger disorders among so many youngsters are just two of the many critical challenges that early, universal preschool can address with care and compassion.

So often, we question the reasons that so many other developed nations boast higher levels of literacy and lower incidences of community violence and social malaise.

One answer might be their willingness to commit to high-quality, universal preschool to develop every young brain and body in healthy ways, before the inevitable stressors of life can take so large a toll.

For every nursery rhyme, healthy snack, storybook and playground game we provide, there will be a changed life and a stronger family. We can count on it, and I am counting on our legislators and leaders to rally with one unified voice, speaking for so many little ones whose own voices cannot advocate or ask for what should be their due — an equitable, enjoyable, enriching early learning experience.

Linda Karges-Bone is a professor, author and media influencer who has written 34 books and hundreds of articles and stories for educational and family media. You can reach her at www.educationinsite.com.

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