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Costs/Benefits of Universal Preschool

The Costs and Benefits of Universal Preschool According to Who?

The recent release of a RAND Corporation study ( suggests that a public universal preschool program in California would return between $2 and $4 in benefits for every dollar expended. That news will surely bolster support for Universal Preschool among policy makers who don’t bother to check the facts.

The RAND Corporation describes itself as “a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world.” But get this…the RAND report was commissioned by the David & Lucille Packard Foundation that seeks to achieve PRESCHOOL FOR ALL in California by 2013 – it is the cornerstone of their “larger vision of quality early education for all children from birth to five years of age in California and the nation.” (

So what, you say? The David and Lucille Packard Foundation has provided funding to California First 5, the tobacco tax funded front for the California School Board supported “Children & Families Act of 1998.” BUT WAIT! It gets better. This notice is posted at the RAND website: “The RAND report is part of the First 5 LA-RAND Research Partnership.” Huh? Then, how can RAND’s findings possibly be objective?

While the new report attempts to financially justify implementation of public preschool for ALL it is interesting to note another RAND study released in September, 2004 titled, “Are L.A.’s Children Ready for School?”. (

Researchers found that most Los Angeles area 4- and 5-year old children have the basic skills needed to begin school with or without preschool experience. The researchers concluded the key factors that determine whether a child will be adequately prepared to begin elementary school are:

*the educational level attained by the child’s mother, and

*the level of poverty in the child’s neighborhood.

The lead author of the study, Lara-Cinisomo, suggested that the hardship of living in poor and unsafe neighborhoods may contribute to poorer parenting practices and more stress on kids. She also indicated that parenting programs that encourage parents to read to their children are likely to help improve school readiness. She added, “While this study looked only at children in Los Angeles County, we expect that a wider study would produce comparable results in similar communities.” [emphasis mine]

The study found that:

“Even if parents are not well educated and live in low-income neighborhoods, they can take action to improve their children’s school readiness. Parents can read to children themselves or arrange for other adults to do so; provide challenging books, games, and puzzles; help children learn to count and figure out math problems; and participate in reading and other programs at the public library. Providing warm and consistent parenting is also important for school readiness.

A child’s behavior is affected by the type of neighborhood he or she grows up in. Young children in low-income neighborhoods have higher levels of sad behavior and aggressive behavior than do children in higher income neighborhoods. These types of behaviors have significant negative effects on children’s ability to learn. Scarce public funding for school readiness programs should be targeted toward children whose mothers are the most poorly educated and to those who live in poor neighborhoods.” [emphasis mine]

If the study shows that MOST 4 & 5 year olds have the basic skills needed to begin school (with or without a preschool experience), that parents can fully prepare their young children for school readiness, and that funding for school readiness programs should be targeted toward children whose mothers are the most poorly educated and to those who live in poor neighborhoods – then WHY ARE WE EVEN CONTEMPLATING FUNDING UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL FOR ALL PROGRAMS?!

These two RAND studies seem to contradict each other. While the return on the investment may be $2 to $4 for every $1 spent on underprivileged and at-risk children — the majority of children don’t need preschool programs to achieve school readiness. How do you justify spending money on programs that aren’t needed – especially when public school elementary and high school programs are desperately pleading for more funding? This just doesn’t make cents sense.

1 comment to Costs/Benefits of Universal Preschool

  • Anonymous

    Cost/Benefits of UP

    Mom school would be a better investment.

    Or create a storefront children’s library in every targeted neighborhood, with big rocking chairs, small coloring tables and trained mentors to model what works for moms and kids who need it most and have nowhere else to find it. Not schools but true learning resources.

    Obviously little children are not our problem. Rather “poor” is THEIR problem — poor parenting skills, poor home environments, poor opportunities, poor encouragement and stimulation, poor nutrition and health services,just plain poor. Why compound all that with poor imagination, poor thinking, and poor policy leading to poor programs that don’t address their real needs, and waste a bunch of tax money doing it?

    But if instead we foster a high-quality culture of learning for moms of young children who need it most, then families everywhere might realize this approach beats “schooling” hands-down, and not just for four-year-olds. Cost or benefit? Only entrenched school interests will answer that question wrong on the test. . . the rest of us will ace it.

    JJ | Website | 4/1/2005 5:50:28 AM

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