By Buddy Blouin
For decades now around the world, there has been an ongoing movement that's focused on improving the quality and accessibility of education for all children, regardless of race or economic status. This conversation is complex and seen on many fronts, but universal pre-kindergarten continues to be a core focus. It makes sense as pre-k is one of if not the earliest taste of formal education for most children. A universal pre-kindergarten curriculum can help provide a more level playing field for children of all backgrounds to succeed academically and socially. Although this topic reaches far outside of the military community, it continues to be an important focal point for families serving and the push to make the universal pre-kindergarten philosophy a reality is growing stronger.

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What Is Universal Pre-Kindergarten?

Universal pre-kindergarten works similarly to other public schools, providing all children with access to high-quality preschool education, regardless of their family's income. But it improves upon the current system, where government-funded pre-kindergarten is only available to families that meet certain income requirements. This means that by implementing universal pre-kindergarten, all children have access to early childhood education, creating a level playing field for students and helping to close gaps such as the achievement gap and social gaps that may arise from varying income levels. Universal pre-kindergarten by definition means that implementing the program would be a significant undertaking, but it would provide an opportunity to standardize regulations and improve the quality of early childhood education across the board. When exploring the potential pros and cons of universal pre-k, it’s clear to see that the implementation of the program can lead to greater diversity among enrolled families, a great return on investment, and the enrichment of the lives of those who attend. Although the program is designed to work for all children, there is a specific push within the military community to make it happen. This is not only to help balance the playing field and provide children with better educational opportunities, but it would also alleviate the issue of the many service members and parents in need of affordable, quality childcare.

The Military Is Looking To Apply the Program to DoD Schools

If the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) can get its way, universal pre-kindergarten could become a reality for the military community. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced in a press release that the DoD is seeking funding for the program as a part of its budget in the fiscal year 2024.

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Should things go positively for the DoD, a $90.4 million investment would be in play for a full-day program to provide eligible 4-year-olds at Department of Defense Education Activity schools with a universal pre-k curriculum. It’s now in the hands of Congress, which will need to approve the budget. The timetable of when the program would begin has yet to be announced, but the idea of universal pre-k is nothing new and plans have been moving behind the scene for a while. In addition to the educational benefits of universal pre-kindergarten goals, another helpful aspect is the gap the program can fill for child care. Because it’s an all-day program, it provides a safe, nurturing environment for children whose parents may otherwise struggle to provide adequate childcare due to their military employment. Furthermore, the program could be free. While the proposal for 3 and 4-year-old children didn’t pass in 2022, DoDEA schools weren’t a part of that proposal. The Biden administration continues to work toward providing free, universal preschool for all American children.

The Universal Pre-Kindergarten Initiative Will Boost Military Families and More

When it comes to taxes, educational initiatives, and other related subjects, there are many conflicting and complementing opinions. Yet, it’s hard to think of a scenario where a more educated population is a worse one. Being in the military means sacrifice and inevitably leads families to operate in a different fashion than they might in a civilian setting. But finding quality education and childcare is a challenge that many families face. Universal pre-kindergarten programs not only ease these stresses but also provide them to a wider range of demographics. As a result, the children, their families, and society all benefit from a more educated population, workforce, and military.

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