The 2013 Education Next survey of American public opinion on education, released today, finds that 60% of respondents expressed support for publicly funded pre-k for low-income and middle class children. This finding is particularly salient given its source, which is not connected with any preschool advocacy groups, and has typically been regarded as taking a more conservative line on education policy questions. The PDK/Gallup Poll, also released today, did not ask respondents about their views on pre-k.
Among the policies about which Ed Next surveyed the public, publicly funded preschool appears to be the second most popular, trailing the Common Core standards (which 65% of respondents supported), but garnering higher levels of support than increased school spending, raising teacher salaries, paying teachers based on performance, or private school vouchers. Teachers were even more supportive, with 73% expressing support for pre-k. Only 27% of respondents (23% of teachers) opposed publicly funded pre-k.
Education Next asked respondents if they would support a proposal that, “would allow low- and moderate-income four-year-old children to be given the opportunity to attend a preschool program, with the government paying the tuition"--a description that closely mirrors President Obama’s preschool proposal from earlier this year.
Some analysts have suggested that the survey results suggest that Americans support targeted pre-k, but not universal pre-k. Yet the results, as worded, suggest public support for extending pre-k to a substantial percentage of American youngsters. Nearly half of children under age 5 live in low-income families. “Moderate income” is more subjective, but the combination of the two seems to suggest that a majority of Americans would support pre-k for a substantial majority of preschoolers--perhaps double the percentage currently served by state pre-k and Head Start programs.
Moreover, as states begin to emerge from budget crunches and have resources to reinvest in education, these results seem to suggest public support for prioritizing early childhood over K-12 in any investment increases. That’s not typically the direction policymakers have taken over the past decade, but if early childhood advocates and policymakers are serious about improving preschool access and quality in the current climate, it’s a case they’ll have to make.
The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.