A push for universal preschool

After watching President Obama’s State of the Union Address last month one issue really stuck out in my mind — the issue of having a universal preschool policy for all American children.

This is an issue that will affect many Minnesotans as Minnesota is known to have a ever increasing achievement gap between white students and students of color.

According to Minnesota Campaign for Achievement NOW (MinnCAN), African American students in 4th and 8th grades are more than three grade levels behind white students in math; African American students in 4th and 8th grades are more than two grade levels behind whites in reading. In all grade levels, low income students are more than two grade levels behind their wealthier peers.

By implementing a universal preschool policy, many children would get the necessary pre-K education that they need in order to be at the same level as their peers who were able to attend a quality preschool program before entering kindergarten.

But what about Head Start? Head Start is a good program, but is leaves many Minnesota families behind. Many families are considered the “working poor” and earn too much in order to qualify for the Head Start programs that Minnesota provides.

With the lower middle class growing due to the recent tough economic times, too many families are getting left behind and their children are suffering the consequences. The time is now to act.

Providing a quality universal preschool program will help all of Minnesota’s youngest citizens an equal start when it comes to their K-12 education.

Studies have demonstrated that early childhood education such as universal preschool can have short and long term effects on cognitive and social emotional development, as well as on school achievement, all while reducing inequality, antisocial behavior and even crime. In the long term, universal preschool will have an immense impact on individual Minnesota families, as well as the nation as a whole.

In Minnesota, we all want our children to have a fair chance, but something needs to be done to eliminate the achievement gap before this can be a reality. Universal preschool is one way we can ensure each child has the necessary skills in order to come into kindergarten ready and able to learn with the rest of their peers.

Universal preschool would provide each student with a foundation that will make them ready to learn the writing, reading and mathematics that is so important once they start kindergarten.

I urge my fellow Minnesotans to take a look at the education system that we provide to our kids. How is it unfair? Why is the achievement gap still so apparent in our state? Please get the conversation going with your friends and neighbors. Write your legislators! This issue is not going to go away, it is going to get worse and we will leave our most vulnerable Minnesota children and families in the dust.

Cathy Komjathy