Yasmina Vinci, Executive Director of the National Head Start Association, recently wrote an opinion piece for The Hill website where she shares her thoughts about a way to get universal preschool right. Here are excerpts:
“Right now, through the American Families Plan, President Biden is calling for a national partnership with states to offer free, high-quality preschool to all three- and four-year-olds. This proposal to scale learning opportunities for all children has the potential to transform society…
But here’s the truth: We can’t waste this once-in-a-generation chance on simply trying to scale preschool. We must be clear that what we need to focus on is scaling equity.
If the last 60 years have taught us anything, however, it is this: Universal access alone cannot ensure equitable outcomes for all of our nation’s children and families. The explicit goal must be equity.
Why? Lack of access to consistent, comprehensive early childhood care, learning, and family support services has a disproportionate impact on Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian-American and migrant children. Likewise, achievement gaps in many of these communities remain persistently high. And it is these families who are struggling most with poverty, food insecurity, unstable housing, and the devastating impacts of COVID-related loss and trauma.
So how do we, as a nation, scale equity as we scale preschool? The answer is obvious: build the new, universal pre-K system around the Head Start model…the most studied and proven in the U.S. with evidence of both short- and long-term positive impacts. The power of the model is that it recognizes children and families as individuals and meets them where they are. Widely considered a triumph in child development, it ensures children have access they need for social, emotional, cognitive and physical growth and connects families to critical wraparound services like food support, job training, housing vouchers, help with utilities and health systems.”
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I agree with Francis - one size does not fit all. There should be a baseline for equity, but the opportunity for higher quality learning. I suggest having a voucher system so parents can choose the type of learning environment which best fits their family & needs. Parents can submit the voucher to a permitted/licensed program or home care. The program/home can charge parents a surplus to cover higher employee salaries & benefits. Competition will drive the market place, parents benefit with lower fees & government doesn't have to carry the entire burden. 40 years providing child care has taught me that you can't rely on government funding.
While I have over 50 years of experience with Head Start, including a director and program reviewer, I totally disagree with this article. I have two main disagreement, 1) if we have learned anything from the universal ;public school k-12 system, it's that a one-size-fits-all DOES NOT WORK! 2) This piece does not directly address the number one problem with our current system (including many Head Start programs): very low pay and terrible benefits. Nothing will improve until this issue is addressed.