The Starting Line: The preschool money problem

Hello and welcome to the second issue of The Starting Line!

We have a number of stories this month that highlight a perennial preschool conundrum: Where do you get public dollars to pay for it? In Indiana, some lawmakers are worried the opioid crisis will eat up funding that might otherwise flow to the state’s preschool program. Other states, including California, have new governors who’ve promised massive preschool expansions without many details about how they plan to get there.

A child care provider in Illinois put the issue in stark personal terms last month when she delivered a desperate plea to state early childhood leaders: “Down here in the trenches, those of us who are cleaning the poop and plunging the toilets — we’re the ones who are not making it.”

Finally, read to the end of the newsletter to hear more from one national preschool expert who says the problem is “a lot of wishful thinking about money.”

Let us know what you think of today’s newsletter and what you’d like to see in future editions — just reply to this email.

See you next month!

— Ann Schimke


OPIOID IMPACT If more state dollars go toward combating the effects of the opioid epidemic in Indiana as some state lawmakers expect, funding for preschool expansion could take a back seat in 2019.

MAJOR SHIFT New York City is moving toward an overhaul of its early childhood system that will put the education department in charge of some programs for children as young as 6 weeks old.

IN JEOPARDY Four major providers of Head Start programs in Detroit lost their federal grants this year because of low ratings or safety concerns. While they can still re-apply, the future of dozens of classrooms hangs in the balance.

THE DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES As New York City expands its signature preschool program to 3-year-olds, experts caution that serving these children well isn’t as simple as duplicating what’s already in place for older students.

WE’LL COME TO YOU Mobile preschools started as a school readiness experiment in some rural communities. Now, the rolling classrooms are coming to Colorado’s suburbs, and Denver could be next.

CRY FOR HELP An impassioned plea from an Illinois child care provider during a routine state hearing illustrated how well-intentioned rules make it tough to keep some child care businesses afloat.


LOW BILLIONS California’s newly elected governor pledged to establish a cradle-to-career system of education in California. Universal preschool for 4-year-olds alone could cost more than $2 billion. EdSource

BEYOND WHITE AND WEALTHY Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to spend part of his fortune to open Montessori preschools in low-income communities, but he’ll have to reach beyond the mostly white and wealthy families that currently choose the approach. Washington Post

HOMEWORK BLUES Some parents and teachers are firmly opposed to homework in kindergarten, but that doesn’t stop some schools from assigning a half hour or more most days. Education Week

KICKED OUT AT AGE 4 Preschoolers are eight times more likely to be kicked out of school than their K-12 counterparts. Some states have started tackling the issue with laws meant to curb the practice or provide extra mental health support to youngsters. Governing

MORE MOM-FRIENDLY  From adding lactation stations to considering child care needs, Congress is rushing to make changes in response to a record number of female lawmakers. Politico

THESPIAN BABIES Balancing work and motherhood can be particularly difficult for women in the theater, but several experiments aim to make it easier. New York Times


Personal essays and Q&As

A plaintiff reflects: Why I joined a lawsuit over my son’s pre-K program — and why I’m thankful for the courts that made ‘Pre-K for All’ a NYC reality The 74

Why this Indianapolis principal worries about the children who don’t go to preschool Chalkbeat

A fixture in Colorado’s early childhood scene prepares to step back — but not all the way Chalkbeat

My daughter thought she’d get in trouble for coloring me brown instead of ‘flesh’ HuffPost


… on the unfinished job of providing preschool

Reporter Marva Hinton, of Education Week, recently talked with W. Steven Barnett, the senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, about some of the factors inhibiting quality preschool. Here’s a snippet of that interview. Read the full version here.

Q: Your recent analysis of public preschool policy found that most states still lack what are known as the essential elements for high-quality pre-K. What do you think is holding states back?

One thing that holds us back is that people think the job is done. They think that Head Start adequately serves all the children in poverty. It doesn’t even reach most of them to start with. Or, they think that kids who don’t have access to public programs have access to private programs. They also don’t really understand the intensity, duration, and quality that’s necessary to produce the promised results.

Q: Is it just a lack of funding?

Absolutely, there is a lot of wishful thinking about money. Most places spend far less [on pre-K] than they do per child on K-12, and they expect far more. That’s just not realistic. Whatever you think about whether K-12 teachers are paid enough, nobody thinks paying them half as much would work. Yet, somehow magically they think that will work if the children are a year or two younger.

The field avoids even the discussion or planning about adequate resources. The field engages in so much work on systems building and blending and braiding. Blending and braiding is put forward not as just a way to improve program quality but as a way to improve financing. That’s just mixing the money we already have. It doesn’t add any new money to the system, so it’s not an effective way of improving the financing.