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With Dearth of Quality Preschools in Black Community, $1B Preschool Investment Announced by Obama Could Be Big Help

Photo Credit:  bobkuehner via flickr

Photo Credit: bobkuehner via flickr

The dearth of affordable high-quality preschools is a huge issue in most African-American communities, so the $1 billion public/private investment in building more preschools announced yesterday by President Obama could be a big step toward helping more Black children succeed in school—and helping Black parents secure and sustain adequate employment.

With the federal initiative, the Education Department will give more than $226 million in grants to 18 states to enroll more than 33,000 youngsters in programs, while the Health and Human Services Department will give up to $500 million for Head Start and child care programs for more than 30,000 infants and toddlers.

In addition, the private sector has pledged more than $330 million to preschool projects, including $55 million from Walt Disney Co. and $25 million from the family foundation of J.B. Pritzker, a Chicago businessman whose sister is Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

But Obama said that was not enough, calling on Congress to make more money available for programs. He pointed out major preschool initiatives in Republican-led states like Oklahoma and Georgia and said the federal government can help other states follow their lead.

“They’re not known as wild-eyed liberal states,” Obama said. “But it just goes to show you that this is an issue that’s bigger than politics.”

Researchers and education experts have long touted the benefits of high-quality preschool, particularly for African-American children and low-income children. A report last year from the Center for American Progress revealed how Black 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool programs in Tulsa and Boston made greater academic gains than their white peers.

African-American children in Tulsa made a 21 percent gain in problem-solving skills, compared to white children’s 6 percent gain, while making similar gains in literacy skills, according to the report. Black children in Boston also made stronger gains than their white classmates on three out of 13 developmental assessments.

 But more than half of African-American children ages three and four (and over 60 percent of Hispanic children) don’t attend preschool, according to the most recent data.
Overall, the United States ranks 28th in access to preschool among industrialized nations.
“Quite frankly, as a nation, we should be ashamed,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters at the president’s announcement.
Comparing the U.S. to countries in the European Union shows just how far the U.S. is behind the rest of the industrialized world. In the EU, pre-primary care for children ages 3 to 5 is close to universally available. But in the U.S., free education is generally available at least part-day for 5-year-olds, but in 2010 just 20 percent of 3-year-olds and 44 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in a public preschool program.
The consequences are especially dire for poor single mothers. Researchers estimate that on average, a poor mother spends 32 percent of her total weekly income on child care—a percentage that nearly doubles when more than one child needs care. This forces most single parents to turn to informal, cheap arrangements because so few public preschool slots are available. Since many jobs offering adequate pay require long and/or irregular hours, many single parents must resort to less well-trained or experienced child care providers who are working long hours or supervising too many children.

African-American single mothers and their children may experience the most adverse consequences of unemployment because their earnings constitute a greater percentage of their total family income. 

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