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date: 18 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

At the turn of the twenty-first century, public universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) gained momentum across the United States as a widely popular public policy goal. More recently, however, implementing high-quality UPK has been hampered by federal disengagement from the issue, fiscal constraints, and conflicting state policy approaches. This chapter examines the growth of UPK as an important policy goal on the federal and state levels; the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and a new presidential administration on federal policy disengagement from the issue; and varying degrees of state fiscal support and state and local policy approaches in thwarting the full realization of UPK’s promise. This examination notes the urgent need for a policy focus on the equitable delivery of high-quality programs if UPK is to improve future educational outcomes and help close opportunity gaps. Universal access will not achieve pre-kindergarten’s benefits without high-quality programming. If universal pre-kindergarten’s promise is to be achieved, the federal and state governments must work in tandem to ensure that all children, starting with those most in need of early education, have access to high-quality, age-appropriate UPK. Because ESSA limits federal policy prescriptions, advocacy must focus on the state level, using evidence-based lessons from research and experience.

Keywords: Universal pre-kindergarten, ESSA, Education federalism, Preschool, Publicly funded pre-kindergarten, Head Start, Preschool Block Development Grant, Early Learning Challenge Grant, Child Care and Development Block Grant, School choice

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