On Wednesday, 65,000 4-year-old New Yorkers began their first day of fully funded pre-kindergarten. This marks the second year of the program, which has been gaining visibility and adding new students since its launch.

“People are demanding this,” said New York mayor Bill de Blasio in an interview with The Washington Post. “They believe it’s something government can and should do. Bringing all kinds of kids together in a classroom lifts all boats. This is where we have to go. This is where the modern world is taking us.”

Quality early childhood education (from birth to age 5) has been shown to improve life outcomes for individuals later in life; it has been linked to lowered crime rates, increased adult earnings and a more highly skilled workforce. It’s also critical to closing the achievement gap between lower-income children and their wealthier peers. As Ms. magazine reported in 2009, an average child whose parents are on welfare has heard 32 million fewer words by age 4 than the child of professional parents.

Not only is early learning important for individual children’s development, it’s also a smart public investment. According to a longitudinal study in Chicago, early-education programs implemented there resulted in lower special-education costs for at-risk children, which dropped by as much as 41 percent. Plus, juvenile arrests and violent offenses were 33 and 42 percent lower respectively among kids who received early support compared to their at-risk peers who did not attend quality early learning programs.

In New York City, nearly two-thirds of eligible children are enrolled in the city’s free, full-day program. Last year, enrollment hovered around half, with 53,000 children in publicly funded preschool.

Media Resources: Washington Post 9/8/15; Ms. Magazine Summer Issue 2009;

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