Four-year-olds are not usually the first group of people who we think of as social activists.
As such, it often helps when there is someone to speak up for their interests, especially when that person has some type of political influence or power. That is exactly what Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton did for over 47,300 of these young children.
On March 20th, as he sat in a preschool classroom, Governor Dayton called for the state’s lawmakers to pass a measure that would use almost a fifth, or $348-million, of a $1.9-billion budget surplus on a universal preschool program, effectively making Minnesota one of only a few states to offer a universal and full-day education program of this sort. While this particular measure would work towards ensuring that every four-year-old is guaranteed the opportunity for education, the Governor has also expressed interest in funding for children of younger ages as well.
This measure may be one of incredible importance to Minnesota in particular, as it is currently ranked the 50th state in the nation for the percent of children attending full-day preschool. While other states have tried to pass similar measures in the past, it is rare that these bills have the effect that policymakers hope for, given that many of the states still have difficultly funding preschool programs enough to actually consider them to be “universal.”
So, while Minnesota would technically be the 10th state to have a “universal preschool program,” only three states—Florida, Oklahoma, and Vermont—actually have over 70% of their 4-year-olds in a program that is funded by the state.
The true importance of early education has been reinforced by information on psychological development, emphasizing the importance of developing cognitive skills that will allow for these students to develop at a rate that will better prepare them for further education. Furthermore, there are millions of children who do not have parents or other figures that are able to spend the time that a child may need, say, to be read to on a frequent basis during a crucial time of development. Implementing a universal preschool system would allow for students to not needlessly be at a disadvantage due to any socioeconomic situation that may prevent them from being able to reach their fullest potential.
This measure, along with President Obama’s recent interest in providing two years of free tuition at community college, both have initated an important new discussion regarding the role that education plays in our society today. Instead of being seen as unnecessary or overpriced, these sentiments are slowly moving towards emphasizing the importance of considering access to education to be a fundamental right, something that no one ought to be prohibited from due to their financial situation.
Given that only 28% of four-year-olds are actually enrolled in preschools nationwide, making access to early education easier would have drastic effects on coming generations. This statistic places the United States at 26th in enrollment rank for this age group among other developed nations. While it is oftentimes difficult for citizens and certain lawmakers to see the importance of backing a bill that is focused on long-terms goals, such as investing in environmental protection or early education, instead of short-term goals, such as tax cuts, it is important to remember that these decisions do not just affect a certain group of people, but will ultimately define the future of our world.