Investing in Pre-K: Frequently Asked Questions

Why should Montana invest in pre-K?

  • Montana can afford to invest in its youngest learners and will experience significant dividends on that investment. For example, an investment of $6 million per year could produce long-term economic returns of over $42 [1],[2] 

What does quality pre-K really mean? 

  • Pre-K programs provide voluntary educational opportunities for children before
  • Pre-K programs vary from state to state, but often include educational programs for four-year-olds, on a part-time basis.
  • To ensure the greatest return on state investment, pre-K programs must be Typical standards defining quality include:[3]
    • A high teacher-to-student ratio, with at least one teacher for every ten children;
    • Teachers with a degree in early childhood development;
    • Comprehensive early learning standards, tailored to preschool-age children;
    • A healthy and safe environment; and
    • Support services for families and parents.

[popout]Investing in Pre-K: Economic Returns for the State

With an investment in quality pre-K programs, Montana would experience long-term economic returns. Investing in pre-K will:

  • Prepare children to succeed in kindergarten;
  • Support families and parents’ ability to stay in the workforce;
  • Reduce special education costs;
  • Increase earnings of participants; and
  • Reduce criminal justice system


How are pre-K programs delivered to participating children?  

  • Forty-two states have invested in pre-K, and each state established its own model for delivering pre-K [4]
  • Over half of states provide pre-K programs through the public [5]
  • Many states, such as Oklahoma, New Mexico, and West Virginia, formed private-public partnerships, where school districts contract with private pre-K [6]
  • In a mixed-delivery system, where public schools partner with private providers, pre-K classrooms may be located within existing community preschools, at elementary schools, or both.

How does pre-K impact a child participant?   

  • Children who attend quality pre-K programs are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to
  • Children experience improvements in vocabulary and early math [7]
  • Children learn interpersonal skills, such as being able to pay attention and [8]When children are better prepared for school, it means less disruption in the classroom and all children benefit.
  • Those who attend quality pre-K are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and earn more over their lifetime. [9]

Do the positive effects of pre-K last?

  • Research shows that when a program is designed properly, emphasizing small group learning and individualized teaching, the increased cognitive skills have a lasting impact.[10] These cognitive skills translate into higher graduation rates, higher college-going rates, and increased earnings over the child’s
  • Most importantly, the cognitive benefits for at-risk children attending pre-K last a [11]
  • Our public education system spends over $85 million in state and federal funds on special education each [12] By investing in pre-K, the state can reduce special education costs by reaching children earlier and ensuring they are prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn.[13]

How does investing in pre-K help families?

  • Quality pre-K programs can strengthen families and provide working parents the ability to stay in the
  • Sixty four percent of children under the age of six reside in households where all parents [14]
  • Child care in Montana is expensive: the average cost for a four-year-old to attend child care is $7,922, roughly 11 percent of the average Montana family’s yearly income and 37% of the average income for a single parent.[15] The cost of child care for a four-year-old now exceeds the annual cost of tuition at a Montana university.
  • State investment in pre-K can help offset these costs and make working more feasible for

How does investing in pre-K help businesses?

  • Business also benefit from investment in pre-K.
  • Employers cite child care issues as causing more problems than any other family-related issue in the workplace. Productive and qualified employees are often forced to leave their jobs because of child care [16]
  • Dependable child care increases productivity and reduces absenteeism among working [17]
  • Businesses will also benefit from a more skilled workforce in the future. Business executives, such as the president of the Washington Corporation, support investment in pre-K to produce a more skilled workforce in the long-term.[18]

How does investing in pre-K help the state economy?

  • Improved cognitive skills translate to less spending on special and remedial education
  • Investment in pre-K also results in reduced crime rates and spending on criminal [19]
  • Pre-K program participants earn more over their lifetime, resulting in a more productive [20]

What preschool programs are currently available in Montana?

  • Many school districts across the state currently provide pre-K to some students beyond required special education services; however, the demand far outweighs the current [21] For example, school districts in Great Falls, Hardin, Libby, and Hamilton have established quality pre-K programs to better prepare four-year-olds to enter school ready to learn.
  • There are also a number of existing private preschool programs across the state, but Montana does not track the number of pre-K providers nor does it monitor the quality of these

How will this impact existing private child care providers?

  • Montana can design a pre-K program to partner with current quality pre-K
  • States such as Oklahoma and New Mexico created strong public-private partnerships to deliver pre-K services. For example, in 2013, about half of children participating in state-supported pre-K in New Mexico enrolled with private [22]
  • Many quality child care providers are experiencing wait lists. An investment in pre-K should serve to expand, not displace, existing quality services to meet increasing
  • In states with similar models, private providers use state dollars to improve their programs and develop their Other providers have shifted their program to serve children in the hours that preschool is not offered and/or to serve more children in the zero-to-three age group.
  • States like Georgia and Oklahoma experienced an increase in the amount of formal child care providers, especially in rural areas, after the adoption of universal preschool policies, as parents could better afford full-time child care services with access to subsidized part-time care for their four-year-old [23]

How will this impact Head Start programs?

  • State investment in pre-K offers a school district the opportunity to work with Head Start programs to extend existing services or open up additional classrooms for children from low- income families who may be on Head Start waiting
  • In FY 2015, about 4,983 Montana children (ages 3-5) participated in Head Start and Tribal Head Start [24] However, many communities do not have access to Head Start facilities, and existing programs often experience long waiting lists each year.
  • Eligibility for Head Start is limited to families experiencing poverty, or those earning approximately $24,300 in annual income for a family of [25] Income limits leave many families ineligible for Head Start yet unable to afford quality child care.
  • State investment in pre-K will help serve those children who may be on a waiting list or who may not be eligible for Head Start, yet struggle to afford private preschool

Where does the 7-to-1 benefit-cost ratio come from and what does it mean?

  • This ratio means that for every $1 of public investment into pre-K, the society as a whole receives at least $7 in economic returns in the long-term. This benefit-cost estimate comes from well- established and peer-reviewed studies of the HighScope Perry Preschool Program and the Chicago Child-Parent [26]
  • This is a conservative Other studies have shown even higher benefit-cost ratios of 11-to- 1 and 16-to-1.[27]

Do the economic benefits of pre-K exist for both targeted and universal programs?

  • All children should be ready to succeed in
  • While studies show that all children benefit from pre-K, the greatest economic returns are from providing quality pre-K to the most disadvantaged [28] Programs providing pre-K to all children, such as those in Oklahoma, have also produced significant economic returns.
  • Low- and middle-income children in schools with income diversity had greater gains in listening and comprehension skills than did kids in classrooms with little to no income [29]
  • Universal programs do a better job at identifying and reaching targeted children.[30] For example, Iowa expanded its program to all four-year-old children in 2008 and has experienced significant increase in enrollment, from 4 percent in 2007 to 61 percent of all four-year-olds in 2015.[31] The more children who are enrolled in preschool, the greater the total return to the economy.
  • Providing funds for universal public preschool to disadvantaged communities can help ensure children most in need are reached and also promote participation and diversity.

How do states ensure public funds are invested in quality programs?

  • Every state that invests in pre-K has established requirements to ensure participating pre-K programs meet comprehensive early learning [32]
  • Over half of state-funded pre-K initiatives require pre-K teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and acquire specialized training in early childhood [33]
  • Eighty-eight percent of state-funded pre-K programs have a staff-to-child ratio of 1-to-10 or better, and 68 percent of programs receive regular site visits to ensure [34]

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