In Washington and statehouses across the country, preschool is moving to the head of the class.
Florida and Oklahoma are among the states that have started providing free preschool for any 4-year-old whose parents want it. Illinois and New York plan to do the same. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to spend $15 billion over five years on universal preschool funding. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke calls preschool one cure for inequality.
The movement represents one of the most significant expansions in public education in the 90 years since World War I, when kindergarten first became standard in American schools. It has taken off as politicians look for relatively inexpensive ways to tackle the growing rich-poor gap in the U.S. They have found spending on children is usually an easy sell.
It took a well-orchestrated campaign to put pre-K on the top of political agendas — and new tactics that didn’t rely on do-gooder rhetoric. Among those working on the issue are the research director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, a billionaire Oklahoma oil man and a foundation executive in Philadelphia.
Their winning pitch: Making pre-K as prevalent as kindergarten is a prudent investment. Early schooling, they say, makes kids more likely to stay in school and turn into productive taxpayers.
Related: The Economics of Preschool.