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Preschool Storytime at the Portola Valley Library in California. (Photo: San Mateo County Library)

Federally-Funded, Universal Pre-K Has Overwhelming Public Support

Seven out of 10 Americans say they favor using federal money to fund pre-kindergarten education

Deirdre Fulton

Seventy percent of Americans favor using federal money to fund universal preschool, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.

The survey results support President Barack Obama's call for universal access to preschool education for 4-year-olds prior to entering kindergarten. In his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama reiterated his call for a massive investment in pre-kindergarten programs: "Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. As a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight."

Congress has not yet acted on this issue, but 30 states have raised their own funds to make preschool available to more children. Last week, more than 50,000 public school children in New York City went to class for the first time, as the city officially began its expanded prekindergarten program, what the New York Times called "the marquee undertaking of Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty."

The Gallup poll found Republicans are much less likely than Democrats to favor using federal money to expand pre-K education (53 to 87 percent, respectively), "perhaps related to their preferences for more limited government spending and more limited federal involvement in education and other spheres of society." It also found that non-white and lower income respondents were more likely to support expanding preschool education than white respondents or those in middle- and upper-income households.

Writing for Gallup, analyst Jeffrey Jones says: "The public seems to agree with Obama's push for expanding preschool education in more areas of the country. But as with any proposal, it may fall behind other government priorities. Also, the political calculus is important. Although a slim majority of Republicans favor expanded federal funds for pre-K education, their level of support is much less than that of Democrats. And with Republicans currently holding the majority in the House, it is unclear how motivated they would be to take action on the issue as opposed to other issues for which rank-and-file Republicans show far greater support."

The Strong Start for America's Children Act, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) last year, would provide flexible funding to help states improve and expand access to high-quality, full-day, voluntary preschool programs for four-year-olds. It passed out of committee in June 2014. estimates it has a 28 percent chance of being enacted.

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