Preschool programs have emerged as a surprising but significant theme in several gubernatorial races across the nation as candidates address the link between early childhood education and future student achievement.
“I believe you can make investments that have a real payoff for the state and for working families, including investing in early education,” says J.B. Pritzker, Democratic candidate in Illinois’ tight race for governor. “Those are investments for the future.”
In 2014, Pritzker organized the 2014 White House Summit on Early Childhood Education, which was established to expand nationwide access to preschool. His support of universal preK programs is a hallmark of his campaign.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is also emphasizing the issue. She says if she’s elected governor of New Mexico, she will work to make a five-year, $285 million investment in early childhood education by drawing more money from a multibillion-dollar state land endowment.
“We’re going to provide universal preK to 3-and 4-year-olds across our state … to get as close as possible to universal preK,” Lujan Grisham said in an interview with The New Mexican. “It’s a conservative approach intended to give legislators a way to work with us in a way that we can win.”
A 2017 poll published by the First Five Years Fund found bipartisan support for increased funding for early childhood programs. According to poll results: 79 percent of voters — including 80 percent of Trump voters and 79 percent of Clinton voters — want Congress and the administration to work together to improve the quality of child care and preschool, and make it more affordable for parents.
Early Education Up Front
In other states like Ohio, Alaska, Colorado, and Michigan, gubernatorial candidates are touting their plans for increased funding for the education and care of children.
Michigan Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has made universal preschool for 4-year-olds a priority, along with increasing high-quality child care options for toddlers.
“My plan focuses on the first thousand days of a child’s life,” Whitmer’s plan reads. “We will prioritize early childhood education funding and get Michigan on a path to universal preschool.”
In Colorado, Democrat Jared Polis says one of his top priorities as governor will be to establish free all-day preschool and kindergarten.
“We are going to finally invest in our schools the way our children deserve and ensure our amazing public school teachers have the resources they need to provide every child with a great education,” Jared states.
Investing in the Future
In his race for the governorship of Ohio, Democrat Richard Cordray proposes to raise the income eligibility level for families to qualify for publicly funded child care from 130 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent, which his campaign states will increase the number of children participating by 20,000.
“An investment in our children is an investment in Ohio’s future,” Cordray states on his campaign website. “Early childhood services help the entire family: They give children the start they need to succeed and enable parents to focus on getting and keeping good-paying jobs that can support their families.”
Cordray states that his administration would establish a central office to coordinate the state’s early education programs and that he will endorse state tax credits to offset child care program costs.
With sometimes harsh inclement weather and long distances between cities and towns, prioritizing universal preK in Alaska for even those in the most secluded communities is the goal of Democratic candidate Mark Begich.
“Access to high quality, affordable early childhood education is essential to raising the next generation of great Alaskans,” he states. “We have a great early education program, one that shows real, sustained results, but it’s available to too few Alaskans.”
Back in Illinois, Pritzker states that his administration can work toward universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. His five-point plan engages parents and children in what he calls a two-generation approach to build a comprehensive, birth-to-five system of early childhood education “that gives every child an opportunity to achieve their potential and gives parents the tools they need to strengthen our families.”
By John Rosales