Pavan Acharya / The Daily Northwestern
As Congress is considering a universal federal free pre-kindergarten bill, some proponents say it could increase enrollment in public daycare in Evanston and improve access to childcare, especially for low-income families. However, the impact on private childcare providers, who make up most of Evanston’s pre-K landscape, remains unclear.
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act proposes universal and free Pre-K services for 3- and 4-year-olds. The House of Representatives plans to vote on the bill this week. If the Senate also approves, the program would be the largest expansion of general and free education in over 100 years, according to the White House. The framework would provide funding for any state that opts for the universal Pre-K program.
research shows access to Pre-K connections with significantly improved educational and career outcomes in the long term, but the differences in access are large, with colored students and students from lower-income families being disproportionately excluded from Pre-K. In Illinois, 28% of 3- and 4-year-old children were enrolled in Pre-K for the 2019-20 academic year, according to a study by Statista. That same year, families in Illinois paid an average of over $ 13,000 for childcare.
Chicago Public Schools is taking steps to expand its preschool offering with a goal of having enough preschool places for every four-year-old in Chicago by 2022 challenges Occupying seats amid confusing registration system, pandemic concerns, and other reasons.
Early childhood education can have an incredible impact on student development, especially among more marginalized students, said Sharon Sprague, director of Early Childhood Programs at Evanston / Skokie School District 65 Child Education.
“There are plenty of wonderful (childcare) programs in the Evanston and Skokie Ward, but they are mostly money-making for families,” said Sprague. “A universal pre-K would alleviate that.”
Sprague runs the Joseph E. Hill Childhood Center, a public preschool funded by federal programs like Head Start.
According to Sprague, the center has enough classrooms for a maximum of around 360 students. She said the current application process is selective and takes into account socio-economic status to help decide which families are most in need. With limited space, some families in Evanston may have to look for other options – but unlike the Joseph E. Hill Childhood Center, many of them cost money. Universal Pre-K would lower the cost of these options, especially for low-income families, she said.
SESP Prof. Terri Sabol Childcare is an economic burden on families, especially low-income families who spend up to 30% of their average income on childcare.
“(The Universal Program) expands both access and the amount of money that families have to pay out of pocket,” Sabol said.
For the universal preschool portion of the program, the Build Back Better Act would provide states with funds for distribution to eligible providers. These providers include licensed childcare programs, Head Start grant recipients, and local education agencies like District 65 – or to cities, counties, or other local governments.
The bill also provides for the establishment of a “birth through five childcare and early education program” to ensure that no eligible family devotes more than 7% of their income to childcare.
However, the impact of the bill on the private childcare industry is unclear.
Basharat Ahmed, owner and director of the Evanston Montessori Children’s House, fears that her income and business could be negatively impacted by the universal and free Pre-K. She said Universal Pre-K could provide an incentive for parents to send their children to a public Universal Pre-K rather than private options.
She also said public schools may not have the resources that some private childcare providers have.
“It’s great if all the kids have this opportunity, but I think I have a few questions,” she said. “How would the child-teacher relationship be? … How would the curriculum be? “
If a state decides to grant funding, it must establish standards for its preschools and ensure that eligible sponsors meet these standards, in accordance with the current draft law.
Sabol believes there are many “open questions” about the potential impact universal preschool could have on local private childcare providers.
Sabol is currently working with her colleague Diane Schanzenbach, Professor of Human Development and Policy, to study the impact of Chicago’s universal Pre-K program on the childcare market.
“What if you introduce a free option in the childcare market?” Said Sabol. “That is an open question.”
Sprague believes that collaboration between private and public childcare providers will be required when universal Pre-K becomes the national standard.
“We’re not going to work to put community and private preschools out of business,” Sprague said. “It’s really about working with the community to find out how we’re going to structure that.”
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Twitter: @ PavanAcharya02
– D65 is taking steps to improve kindergarten readiness, to close the gap in opportunities
– NU study shows Head Start’s preschool can support parenting education
– Stimulus Bill to Fund Evanston School Districts and Childcare Programs