A diverse group of pre-kindergarten students show universal happiness with smiles as they pose on a bench for their class photo.

Smiles are universal on graduation day for the pre-kindergarten class at Lewis Meriwether Elementary School in Portland, OR. Photo courtesy: Meriwether Lewis Elementary School | Flicker CC.

The United States spent $621 billion on elementary and secondary schools during 2011-2012. It wasn’t enough funding to guarantee student success. Research shows that reform efforts during K-12 years don’t help students already fallen behind.

School districts are searching for solutions to this costly failure. Universal Pre-K appears to be a promising fix. Since the federal government has more direct control on distribution of Pre-K funding it’s also popular with 2016 presidential candidates who want to show their interest in education—if not their support.

The Politics of Universal Pre-K Education

Hilary Clinton sees Universal Pre-K as a solution for this educational crisis and has made it part of her campaign platform, pointing out the inadequacies of her GOP opponent’s plans. “Republicans aren’t just missing the boat on early childhood education—they’re trying to sink it,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Universal Pre-K is an issue that politicians from both major parties could t use to improve their image. GOP candidates need to join the conversation to benefit from this trending issue. “Democrats have gone head-first into this economic inequality or economic opportunity argument. Republicans feeling a need to engage can look at this—at the education issue and at early childhood development—as an area where they can have an impact,” observed Kevin Madden, a former Romney adviser.

Bipartisan Efforts Support Universal Pre-K Education Reform

By 1960 only 10% of the three- and four-year-olds participated in a Pre-K program. Enrollment increased to 69% by 2013. President Obama introduced a plan to expand access to Pre-K in February 2013 with a proposed investment of $75 billion to help the U.S. match educational advancements in other countries.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representatives Richard Hanna (R-NY), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) present a rare example of bipartisanship in a Presidential election year by co-sponsoring the Strong Start for America’s Children Act. It will be funded by a reduction in corporate tax breaks. The bill’s goal is to provide high-quality pre-school programs for poor and working families. It provides a federal and state partnership providing quality Pre-K programs for moderate-income and low-income families.

States are also showing significant faith in Universal Pre-K by devoting extensive financial resources to new initiatives. Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, plans to invest $1.5 billion in a statewide Universal Pre-K program.