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William Lynch III Headshot

Do Right by Our Children: Enact Universal Pre-K

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This past November, New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted for Bill de Blasio, delivering a clear mandate for his campaign platform to end the dire poverty that has plagued so many New Yorkers and put the final chapter on the Tale of Two Cities. A cornerstone of his platform was a modest, temporary tax increase on the wealthiest New Yorkers to fund universal pre-kindergarten.

In addition to the historic mayoral election, there was another momentous occasion for me last year: I became a father for the first time. Knowing that my son will one day enter a hypercompetitive global marketplace, I want to ensure that his generation gets the skills they need to reach their full potential, so that they enter the workforce fully prepared for challenges I cannot begin to comprehend.

One tool to help alleviate poverty and nurture our young people is universal pre-k. Studies have consistently shown benefits for people who attend pre-k, even decades later. Students who have a good educational start in life show better emotional development, improved math and language comprehension, a higher high school graduation rate, and greater income over the lifetimes. Universal pre-k can also play a substantial role in ending racial disparities; a meta-analysis of over 100 studies found that a strong pre-school education may reduce the racial achievement gap by half or more.

Although a temporary upfront revenue increase would take money out of some taxpayers' pockets, nevertheless, the long term gains from pre-k more than make up. If anything, it is fiscally irresponsible not to fund universal pre-k. The taxpayer ultimately benefits from decreases in future spending on things like welfare programs, incarceration, grade repetition and special education. By one study, cited by President Obama, every dollar spent on pre-k saves $7 on future costs. Another study that tracked people from pre-k to age 40 pegs the number at $16. These return on investment numbers would be respectable for any stock or bond.

Moreover, we do not need to wait years or decades to realize any economic benefit from universal pre-k. It would immediately benefit New York's businesses, both large and small, by bringing into the workforce men and women who would otherwise need to be stay at home parents. In turn, this additional income for struggling families would generate even more economic activity. No wonder, then, that big business interest group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a far cry from a liberal institution, issued a policy paper in 2010 entitled "Why Business Should Support Early Childhood Education" that called for government spending on pre-k.

In addition, any universal pre-k program must also be of a high quality; it cannot simply be a babysitting service. Studies have shown that the benefits mentioned above are mostly achieved when the instruction includes a skilled teacher and small class size. All of this requires sufficient funding and resources. In fact, insufficient funding may help explain why some studies have found poor results for the federal government's Head Start program, because there is not enough funding to replicate programs that have shown the best results.

In order for universal pre-k to be effective, the city needs a reliable, robust revenue stream to ensure funding. Mayor de Blasio's tax plan is one good option, even if it means our wealthiest citizens must make a small sacrifice now. If we are to remain the Greatest City in the World -- great for New Yorkers rich and poor alike -- we must develop a next generation prepared to take the reins.