DEY’s Response to The New Republic Article, “Give Parents Money, Not Universal Pre-K”

The experts at Defending the Early Years find fault with the premise of the article which pits family support and high-quality preschool education against one another.

Haspel is correct, we need greater family support, starting with maternal and paternal paid leave for the first year of life; but we also need publicly funded rich, progressive, play-based early care and education for young children until they start formal school. As we learned after Hurricane Katrina, giving people money does not ensure that their life will improve. 

The U.S. has never had the political will to spend the billions of dollars it would take to provide universal coverage.  Recognizing the estimated $70 billion a year “preschool market,” investors are happily filling in the gaps in an ECE mixed-market system that has long been broken. 

Haspel fails to realize that by ensuring every child has access to high-quality, fully-funded, play-based early care and education, we are doing more for parents than simply giving them a voucher. Voucher experiments in DC and other cities prove that rarely do they cover the full cost of tuition. Parents will be expected to find care that matches the amount of the voucher or supplement the additional costs out of their pocket. This does not help families but instead leaves them trapped between choosing affordable care that could be lower quality or paying out of pocket for high-quality care.  Instead of expecting states to abandon their role in ensuring every child begins with a solid foundation of high-quality early care and education experiences, we should encourage direct support to families and demand each state provide access to early care and education. The only thing wrong with a demand for universal pre-k is that play-based programs are often excluded by states that prefer academic instruction. If giving parents a choice is truly the end goal then we would support parents who chose play-based programs over academic instruction. And we would support parents who chose universal pre-k over vouchers.