Addressing the National School Funding Network on November 6th in Washington, D.C., Education Law Center’s preschool advocate Ellen Boylan cited the “compelling research” on the benefits of high quality early education as fueling a national movement to provide universal preschool to three- and four-year olds. Boylan urged lawyers and advocates pressing for adequate public school funding to include preschool education in their litigation and legislative efforts.

In a session titled “Preschool Education: The New Frontier in Adequacy,” Boylan was joined by Janet Hansen, Vice President and Director of Education Studies at the Committee for Economic Development (CED), an independent research and policy organization of business leaders. Ms. Hansen discussed a CED report, “Preschool for All: Investing in a Productive and Just Society,” which makes the case for universal free access to preschool for all children.

Boylan discussed the NJ Supreme Court’s landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings requiring universal, high quality preschool in thirty low-wealth urban school districts. She emphasized the importance of research evidence introduced by ELC in Abbott, including evidence that disadvantaged urban children typically start kindergarten two years behind children in suburban communities. Boylan also discussed the research evidence recently presented in Hancock v. Driscoll, Massachusetts’ school funding case, by Dr. Steven Barnett of the National Institute on Early Education Research (NIEER). Dr. Barnett, who also testified in Abbott, presented evidence showing that at-risk children entering kindergarten in Massachusetts’ low-wealth school districts typically test two years behind children in more affluent districts on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), a nationally standardized indicator of later school success.

Boylan underscored the need for a strong coalition of public schools, Head Start and child care agencies to make the case for universal preschool. Boylan cited New Jersey’s Early Care and Education Coalition, led by the Association for Children of New Jersey, as a successful prototype.

Boylan highlighted “Starting at 3,” an ELC-led initiative funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to promote state-level advocacy to establish the right to preschool education for all three- and four-year olds. She reported that that advocates in several states, including Arizona, California, Colorado and Virginia, have requested assistance from Starting at 3. Boylan encouraged NSFN members interested in expanding preschool as a part of their advocacy for K-12 funding reform to contact her.

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