Friday, September 25, 2020

Guest Blogger: Neera Tanden and Janet Murguía “Preschool Legislation Would Benefit Hispanic Families”

Ralph Alswang Photographer www.ralphphoto.com 202-487-5025Janet Murguia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though most states have made preschool available to at least some four year olds over the last decade in an effort to help prepare them for school, Latino children attend preschool at much lower rates than children of other races and ethnicities. Just 37 percent of Hispanic children ages 3 to 4 attend preschool, compared to 50 percent of white children and 49 percent of African American children

Better access to preschool for Latino children would make an enormous difference in the skills children have when they start school. In places like Boston and Tulsa, where preschool programs are widely available to all families, the research tells us that all children benefit, but Latino children benefit the most.r olds over the last decade in an effort to help prepare them for school, Latino children attend preschool at much lower rates than children of other races and ethnicities. Just 37 percent of Hispanic children ages 3 to 4 attend preschool, compared to 50 percent of white children and 49 percent of African American children.

Last month, Senator Harkin (D-IA), Representative Miller (D-CA), and Representative Hanna (R-NY) introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act. This bipartisan bill would expand access to high quality preschool for four year olds and provide early learning opportunities for children from birth. This marks an important step forward in ensuring that all children enter school ready to learn, but it’s a particularly important opportunity for Latino children who are least likely to have access to preschool.

Preschool is an important investment in our long-term economy. Children in high-quality preschool programs gain up to one year of additional learning, and taxpayers get an estimated seven dollars for every dollar invested. Research shows that preschool can reduce the need for special education and grade retention in elementary school and reduce the likelihood that children will be incarcerated or have a teenage pregnancy. That translates into big savings for our country over the long term and better outcomes for children.

Preschool looks to be especially promising for Hispanic children. In Tulsa, Hispanic children who attended the universal preschool program made larger gains than any other ethnic or racial group. Hispanic children made a 79 percent gain in pre-reading skills, a 39 percent gain in pre-writing skills, and a 54 percent gain in pre-math skills. In comparison, white children made a 52 percent gain in pre-reading skills, a 26 percent gain in pre-writing skills, and a six percent gain in pre-math skills. Gains were particularly high for children in homes where Spanish is the primary language and children with at least one parent born in Mexico.

The cognitive gains made by Spanish speakers in Tulsa’s preschool program matched those in the landmark Perry Preschool Program, an intensive preschool intervention with poor African American children in the 1960s. Researchers followed the children through age 40 and found that in addition to large cognitive gains, children had better outcomes into adulthood, including reduced crime and teen pregnancy and higher high school completion rates and earnings.

Researchers found similar results in Boston. Hispanic children showed higher gains in measures of vocabulary, early literacy skills, and problem solving. Hispanic children also made comparatively larger gains on measures of inhibition and attention skills. These skills, referred to as “executive functioning,” are particularly important because they are thought to be foundational for success not only in school, but throughout the lifecycle.

Beyond benefits for children, preschool can benefit the entire family. Hispanic families were especially hard hit by the economic recession, losing 44 percent of their wealth compared to an 11 percent loss for White families. Thirty-seven percent of Hispanic children under five live in families with incomes below the poverty level. Preschool can help by providing child care so that families can work, helping families access medical and dental care for their children, and connecting families to employment and parenting resources in the community.

Over the next several decades, the demographics in this country will shift. By 2050, the Hispanic population will increase by 65 percent to constitute 28 percent of the total U.S. population. Hispanics are the largest minority population in the country and among the fastest growing.

Our country’s future economic well-being depends on how well we prepare these children to succeed. Right now, half of all low-income children do not enter kindergarten with the foundational skills that prepare them for school. The gap between low-income children, particularly those of color, and higher income children only grows over time. By high school, low-income children of color are years behind their peers and many do not graduate from high school. Researchers estimate that half of this gap could be eliminated if we addressed the school readiness gap that exists before children set foot in a kindergarten classroom.

If the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global economy, we must begin by giving every child a chance to succeed by starting school on a level playing field. Right now, many Latino children are not given that chance. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act provides a vision for giving every child a fair shot and preparing today’s preschools to be tomorrow’s competitive workforce. Unless we make sure these children start school better off, we’ll all be worse off.

Neera Tanden is President of the Center for American Progress. Janet Murguia is President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

This article originally appeared in Spanish in La Opinión