Education Pre K-12
August 1st, 2006 1 Minute Read Issue Brief by Rhonda Meyer, Stephen Goldsmith

Pre-K: Shaping the System That Shapes Children


This year, states will add almost one billion additional education tax dollars to their budgets as politicians in more than twenty states consider moving toward a Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) system. Although a spirited debate has taken place over the advantages to children of a pre-K education, there has been little or no debate on how, rather than whether, to offer early-childhood education (ECE). Because of this lack of discussion and study, many states are implementing well-intentioned policies in a flawed manner that could cause more harm than benefit.

The availability of prekindergarten education has increased steadily over the past four decades. While traditionally, government tailored these programs specifically for children with various disadvantages, ranging from socioeconomic to learning disability– related, there has been increasing interest in recent years in expanding pre-K opportunities more universally. A number of factors are responsible for the nationwide surge in funding for pre-K programs.

These factors include:

  1. concerns about children's "school readiness" and subsequent academic achievement;
  2. advances in early brain development research, which has shed light on the plasticity and learning capacity of the young brain;
  3. the increasing proportion of working mothers and their need for child care;
  4. concerted and well-funded efforts by pre-K advocacy groups; and
  5. economist' promotion of pre-K as an economic development strategy.

Education researchers disagree on the long-term efficacy of pre-K, but they do generally agree that children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit most from high-quality childcare and early education programs. Poor children are more likely to perform poorly in their classes and on tests of cognitive ability, repeat grades or drop out of school, and experience serious emotional and behavioral problems. The consequences of these failures loom large on these youth and their communities. The reported poverty rate among high school dropouts was 22.2 percent in 2000, compared with a 3.2 percent poverty rate among those with at least a bachelo's degree.

In this paper, we look at pre-K options in light of K-12 public education and higher education systems and consider how best to offer early-childhood education services to those who need them most.


Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of Government at Harvard University. Rhonda Meyer is Director of Research at the Alliance for School Choice.


Are you interested in supporting the Manhattan Institute’s public-interest research and journalism? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and its scholars’ work are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).