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Noah Goliday in his pre-K class in Washington, D.C. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Image

Communities are starting to prioritize pre-kindergarten programs to boost children's school performance — as well as to provide quality childcare for parents who need to work.

Why it matters: "This is more than just an educational issue. It's a public health issue, an economic and workforce development issue, and a child poverty issue," said Olivia Allen, project manager at the Children's Funding Project.

  • Research has shown children who aren't prepared for kindergarten often fall behind by the time they reach third and fourth grades, which is when states start accountability testing.
  • But the average pre-school tuition for two children costs $20,000 per year — about a quarter of the median family income.

By the numbers: Enrollment in state-funded pre-school programs has slowly increased over the last 15 years.

In Texas, half-day pre-K programs were available for households with incomes below 185% of the poverty threshold. But it wasn't workable for families that needed full-time care.

  • In 2011, San Antonio voters approved to raise the local sales tax by one-eighth of a percent to expand full-day Pre-K for 4-year-olds across the city. The money went to opening four early education centers — one in each quadrant of the city — serving a total of 2,000 kids per year.
  • Sarah Baray, CEO Of Pre-K4SA, said their research found "children had better reading and math scores, significantly better attendance, and were far less likely to need special education services."
  • The program's success spurred the state to boost funding to increase the number of students beyond those that meet income eligibility requirements.

Pre-K programs have also been shown to help mothers re-enter the work force.

  • In 2009, the District of Columbia began offering two years of universal, full-day preschool to 3- and 4-year olds.
  • The Center for American Progress attributed a 10 percentage-point rise in maternal labor force participation to the preschool expansion.

In New York's Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse, County Executive J. Ryan McMahon sees government-funded pre-K as a way to break the cycle of multigenerational poverty.

  • "We're investing in our young people now so we can make good decisions later — or we'll spend a lot more later when they make poor decisions," McMahon said.

Reality check: States and cities shouldn't prioritize quantity over quality, said Shelley Hearne, president of CityHealth. "There's pressure on everyone to provide more seats, but if those seats are in low-quality environments, we won't see the long-term benefits."

The big question for most cities is how to pay for preschool programs.

  • Philadelphia passed a soda tax to fund early education. Denver dedicated a 0.15% sales tax that has been extended to 2026.
  • Cobbling together enough money to pay teachers a living wage continues to be a challenge.

The good news: "Once it's there, it's not an area where either political party looks to cut," McMahon said. "If you can prove metrics, you can have good results."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks at the 2021 Tribal Nations Summit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Nov. 15, 2021. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and "again.. diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

1 hour ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

2 hours ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.