As 65,000 4-year-olds start free, full-time prekindergarten today as part of New York City’s ambitious universal pre-k program, questions persist about whether the program is spending public funds wisely. Education advocates and officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration say the $300 million a year program is a success because the city was able to offer a place to every family who asked for one and is building broad public support that will protect the program long-term.
Some experts, however, argue that de Blasio’s approach is wasteful because it includes the children of wealthier families who may reap minimal incremental benefits from government-sponsored early education.
Studies have shown that while low-income children benefit exponentially with pre-school, children raised in high-income families do well regardless because they are naturally exposed to richer educational experiences. “We just don’t have the evidence to back why we would heavily finance pre-k in middle class and upper class communities,” said Bruce Fuller, a public-policy professor at UC Berkeley who is a critic of universal pre-k and who has written extensively about the New York City case. “I think the mayor has virtuous intentions, but I think once he made this ambitious campaign promise, he sort of charged ahead with blinders on.”