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Universal preschool is most cost-effective, study finds

 
 
 

Because preschool programs that include all kids boost low-income 4-year-olds’ reading scores, they could be a better way to spend tax dollars, according to a Dartmouth economist.

Preschool is most likely to help low-income children if their classmates come from a range of family incomes, according to a new study.

The new research contradicts the current strategy in most states of targeting public preschool only to low-income kids. That approach is based on the results of many earlier studies that have found attending preschool helps kids from disadvantaged backgrounds start kindergarten on a stronger academic footing. The benefits for higher income children are less pronounced. That is why most states and the federal government choose to spend taxpayer dollars on “targeted” preschool programs open only to low-income families.

But the new study, just updated in December by Dartmouth College economist Elizabeth Cascio, finds that universal programs have a significant positive effect on the reading scores of poor kids, while targeted programs do not. The effect on math scores is also positive but not statistically significant, Cascio said.

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