Guest Commentary: Making the Case for Universal Pre-K
By John Olszewski Jr.
Education should be the great equalizer.
Yet, as a public school teacher in Baltimore County, I saw incredible inequities in our schools. As a new parent, I see the benefits that a quality early childhood education provides my toddler daughter. It’s an advantage I believe every child deserves.
Baltimore County families come from different backgrounds and cultures. Family incomes vary widely. In some Baltimore County communities, only 10 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree, while the rate in other communities exceeds 50 percent. In Baltimore County, we have more than 2,000 homeless students and over 45 percent who qualify for the Free and Reduced Meal program.
Disparities in education lead to disparities in economic opportunity. Improving access to education empowers residents to build a better future. We need to provide every child the tools they need to succeed.
In June, we launched our campaign for Baltimore County executive. From the start, I’ve made universal pre-K central to my platform. I am proud to have been one of the first candidates in Maryland to do so.
That idea is now supported by the state’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, chaired by Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan, the previous chancellor of the University System of Maryland. The Kirwin Commission concluded that “universal pre-kindergarten is critical in order to give every child a good start to their education.”
This recommendation reflects a growing field of research demonstrating the merits of universal pre-K. It is also supported by almost every Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland.
In January 2016, almost two-thirds of Maryland’s 4-year-olds were not enrolled in pre-K. The reasons for this may vary, but we need to remove all the barriers that prevent children from getting a head start.
In pre-K, 4-year-olds begin to build critical cognitive and social skills. They learn more than basic school skills. They gain empathy and the ability to work with others. They then come to elementary school better prepared to learn.
Decades of research have demonstrated that access to pre-K has a positive effect. The benefits are non-discriminatory, with a sweeping impact on children of all backgrounds.
Research has found that children who attended preschool had higher earnings, committed fewer crimes, were more likely to hold a job and were more likely to have graduated from high school than those who did not. This results in an $8.90 return on investment for every $1 invested in pre-K — a meaningful financial benefit to society.
Some may ask how we afford universal pre-K in Baltimore County. I believe we can, but doing so will require strengthening our partnership with state officials to ensure adequate investment. The county also must do its part by prioritizing the use of our resources. Given the long-term benefits, the better question is whether we can afford not to invest in universal pre-K.
Universal pre-K is an investment in a better Baltimore County. It is the first step to leveling the playing field and eliminating barriers to opportunity. Its time has come.
John Olszewski Jr., a Democratic, is a candidate for Baltimore County executive. He is a former Baltimore County teacher and former delegate representing Baltimore County’s 6th District. His campaign can be reached at johnolszewskijr.com. Twitter: @JohnnyOJr.