The Kalamazoo County program is called “Kalamazoo County Ready 4s”, or KC Ready 4s. KC Ready 4s aims to move towards universal access to high-quality pre-K for all four-year olds in Kalamazoo County. The program seeks to do so in part by providing training and assistance for local pre-K providers to improve their quality. In addition, KC Ready 4s provides tuition assistance on a sliding fee scale for 4-year olds to attend approved pre-K programs. The program currently assists over 100 4-year olds in Kalamazoo County, with plans for expansion as funds permit. Because the program aims at universal access, the program provides tuition assistance to families at a wide variety of income levels, including many working class and middle class families. I currently serve on KC Ready 4s’ Board.
My study estimates the short-run effects of the KC Ready 4s program on kindergarten entry test scores. The paper finds that the program leads to test score effects which are quite large.
Specifically, the program finds effects on kindergarten test scores which would be equivalent to an increase in test scores of at least 19 percentiles, e.g., a child who would have been at the 31st percentile on test scores would instead score at the 50th percentile or the median. This represents an increase in what children would otherwise learn without pre-K of at least 50 percent.
Based on previous studies of the relationship between kindergarten test scores and adult earnings, these test score gains would be predicted to increase adult earnings by around 10 percent, which would be an increase of many tens of thousands of dollars. Because the program’s half-day pre-K costs about $4,500 per child, the implication is that the earnings benefits of the program alone would clearly pass a benefit/cost test.
What relevance does this study have to the continuing national debate over pre-K? One important relevant point is that the study adds to evidence that pre-K programs that include working class and middle class families can provide benefits that exceed costs. We already have such evidence from studies in Tulsa and Boston. Kalamazoo now provides additional evidence.
There is a strong political case for designing pre-K programs that have broad benefits for many families. The evidence also increasingly indicates that there is a strong economic case for broad-access programs, because many children, not just low-income children, can benefit from public support for high-quality pre-K. Finally, by broadening access to pre-K, we also have a greater impact on local economic development, because by doing so we have a much greater impact on the overall quality of the local workforce.