One controversial issue is whether a large-scale or universal pre-k program is best delivered through the public schools, or through private preschools.
My assessment of the evidence is that either approach can work. Oklahoma’s near-universal pre-k program seems to be successful. Oklahoma’s program is largely delivered through the public schools. But Georgia’s large-scale pre-k program also seems to be successful. Georgia’s program is delivered through a charter school approach, under which a variety of providers are authorized to receive a state payment per preschool child enrolled.
On the other hand, Florida’s approach to large scale preschool is generally considered to be less successful. Florida relies on vouchers to preschool parents. But the vouchers are modest enough that it is difficult for many Florida preschool programs to be high-quality. It is quite possible that with greater funding and additional regulation, a voucher approach to pre-k funding might also be successful.
As a practical matter, if a local area already has many high-quality preschool providers, it would seem wise to somehow make them eligible for funding in an expanded pre-k system. This seems wise for several reasons.
First, it seems politically sensible. The threat to private preschools seems to have motivated some of the opposition to the 2006 California ballot initiative to expand state funding for preschool. Opposition from some private preschool providers also seems to be motivating some opposition to expanded pre-k in New York State.
Second, it seems more sensible to build on what you have than to recreate it. If a local area already has some high-quality private preschool providers, there seems a lot of waste in driving them out of business and replacing them with public school provision.
Third, there is the ongoing argument that competition among different school providers may lead to more innovation, more ability to address diverse needs, and higher quality. Whether this is so in the preschool case obviously depends upon how that competition is structured. For example, it is not obvious that parental choice by itself, without any regulation, will be sufficient to ensure pre-k quality. But with some regulation that provides minimum quality standards, and promotes better measures of quality, a choice among different providers may promote quality.