Rachael Davison
Special to the Mustang Daily

At the age of 3, children’s brains are two-and-a-half times more active than adults’ brains. However, the public school system in the United States does not begin until kindergarten, when children are 5 or 6.

Children unable to attend preschool miss two to three years of prime learning, putting them at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives. The public school system in the United States should include preschool level education in all states to limit the divide between the wealthy and the poor, while also improving the economy and society of our future.

Preschool is available in our country — but at a very steep cost. Depending on location and quality, the average cost per year of American preschool is $4,056 to $11,678, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. These costs work out to be a monthly cost between $338 and $973. Comparatively, the real median yearly household American yearly income in 2009 was reported by the US census to be $49,777. With these extreme costs, preschool is left for only wealthy and upper-middle class Americans, creating a divide between the social classes at the very beginning of a child’s life.

Critical brain development, as well as the acquisition of such important skills such as self-regulation and obtaining healthy relationships, occurs during the first five years of a child’s life. This early period is a time when there is developmental growth which needs to be supported with opportunities and experiences for learning and exploration in a socially stable, enriching environment. Lacking these experiences stunts the child’s development physically, emotionally and socially. This loss results in individuals who do not function well in society and often actually cost more than they contribute.

Children who attend preschool are less likely to repeat a grade, more likely to graduate high school and reach a high level of education, more likely to own a car, own a house, have a high paying salary, hold healthy relationships and so forth. Many educators estimate that at least one-third of  American children entering kindergarten are not prepared to benefit from the instruction and experiences in the classroom.

The only negative factor present for universal public preschool education is cost to the states. A daily nine-hour program with a qualified teacher and 15 students would cost about $11,889 per child per year. A six-hour program, however, would cost only $8,070 a year. The state could offer a six-hour day program to everyone, and, as is often done with higher education, nine-hour private school options could be an option for parents who can afford it.

When Florida first created public pre-kindergarten education in its state, the savings were expected to be between $2 billion and $6 billion. In Florida’s public education system, annual costs include $1.6 billion for remedial education. Retention costs are about $900 million, and about $640 million are spent in delinquency costs. Later in life, preschool-educated adults will not depend on welfare as often, crime rates will drop and an increase in earned income will help the economy and increase the tax base.

California’s state preschool system is facing budget cuts in a time when it needs to increase accessibility and quality. According to Carla Rivera’s article in the Los Angeles Times, during the 2009-2010 school year only 17 percent of California 4-year-olds attended state preschool programs. Our state should be a leader, encouraging a positive change for the future of this nation. Children are the future, and creating an irreversible divide at the beginning of their lives only hurts us. All states should include quality public preschool, and California should encourage this critical improvement to our education system.

The numerous benefits of the addition of preschool to the public school system are evident. Currently, preschool is far too expensive for the everyday American to afford, yet it is essential to children’s brain development. Preschool educations result in countless benefits throughout one’s lifetime, far exceeding the simple academic aspect. The controversy lies on the one negative drawback: the initial cost. Supporting the initial cost, however, will benefit the country in the long run.

Despite our country’s current economic status, the support of including public preschool is in everyone’s best interest. Providing public preschool will help define and improve our nation as a whole.

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