Everything You Need to Know About Universal Pre-K in Michigan

Read on for details about the Build Back Better Act.

Universal pre-K has been a buzzword in the education community for years. Through the Build Back Better Act, which was passed in November 2021, the federal government is proposing to significantly fund the integration of early care and education from infancy up until kindergarten. This promises to result in more, and more consistently, high-quality care for children across their earliest years of life.

We sat down with Dr. Christina Weiland, associate professor at the School of Education at the University of Michigan, to find out what universal pre-K is and why Michigan parents should know about it.

What is universal pre-K?

Universal pre-K is the opportunity for every family to send their child to a publicly funded preschool program at no cost if they want to, just as they can do for kindergarten.

Who benefits from current federal programs?

Head Start is the federally funded program for providing access to preschool for children from families with low incomes and children with disabilities. Some children can access preschool via other federal funds like child care subsidies. Others access preschool through state or locally funded programs.

How does universal pre-K help parents?

Universal pre-K can help take financial stress off families and provide access for those who otherwise would not be able to send their children to preschool. It can also keep parents in the workforce, particularly moms, and thus help reduce the large penalties many parents pay in terms of lower wages, savings and benefits in the long term due to interrupted work trajectories when their children are young.

What are the cons to universal pre-K?

Some argue that public pre-K should be targeted, meaning offered only to those who can’t afford to pay for preschool on their own. They argue that those public dollars are better spent on a different need. A common counterpoint to this argument is that research shows that universal programs benefit children from families with lower incomes more than income-targeted programs. Additionally, something that will require careful work is that under the current proposal, each state will have to decide to accept federal funding for universal preschool and then come up with a plan for implementation. Some states may decide not to offer the program and thus their families will be left out.

Are there any misconceptions of universal pre-K?

One common misconception about preschool in general is that programs are either “academic” or “play-based.” High-quality preschool programs are both play-based and academic. The key is that the instruction is intentional and follows the best science for how young children learn, including using evidence-based curricula. Currently, most public preschool programs use curricula that are play-based but not evidence-based. Getting the most out of an investment in universal pre-K is going to require a shift in the teaching and learning models accordingly.

What is the timeline for implementation?

The Build Back Better legislation that is currently under debate is a six-year proposal, with the federal government providing entirely through 2024 and then a state match through 2027. After that, new decisions and investments would be needed to continue the programs.

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