Experts caution Build Back Better Act pre-K schooling plan could further divide for underserved communities

December 7, 2021
John Fantuzzo

As debate continues over the Build Back Better Act, Penn GSE’s John Fantuzzo cautions one key priority of the legislation — a $110 billion proposal to offer two years of free, universal, high-quality pre-K schooling — could just exacerbate or further entrench some of the inequities already present in our educational system.

“There are incredible barriers to Black and Latino families living in segregated disadvantage, which means their children are already disproportionately unable to access pre-K services,” Fantuzzo, director of the Penn Child Research Center and professor of human relations at Penn GSE, told Vox. “If the federal government merely expands what already exists, without rethinking who is in need or what [high] quality is, the deployment of these services won’t move the needle for those who need it most.”

While there is general agreement over the fact that high-quality pre-K education is of great benefit to children throughout development and into their adult lives, one sticking point, according to Fantuzzo, is the legislation’s lack of guidance: States will be left to their own devices to determine what constitutes high-quality education. For states which already have difficulty providing strong pre-K education to underserved communities, the lack of a roadmap might just mean bolstering the status quo.

“Who is defining need, and who is defining quality?” Fantuzzo said. “Do states have the capacity to understand where their preschool deserts are, and then will they have the time to get their act together to provide resources to those with the greatest need? 

“States are not going to invent systems that meet the needs of the underserved,” he added. “They’re just going to use what everyone else has already used, so they’re going to get the same results as before.”

In addition to concerns regarding how the legislation determines the quality of available schooling, experts also caution the plan’s lack of long-term federal funding — and the ability for opposed state legislators to refuse the funding outright — could be significant hurdles to the overall goal of providing high-quality pre-K to every student in the country.

For more, read the full article on Vox.