First Micro-Study on Universal Pre-K Impact has Ties State-Wide, Beyond

Camp Fire First Texas releases first micro-study on Universal Pre-K, identifies unintended consequences.

Online PR News – 27-March-2015 – Fort Worth, Texas – Just as families in the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) have wrapped up the first round of pre-kindergarten open houses, Camp Fire First Texas releases findings from a four-month study on the unintended impact of implementing universal pre-k in FWISD. This micro-study is the first of its kind to research the economic and quality issues that arise when programs, such as this, are implemented on a broad scale in a metropolitan community*. These findings offer state-wide insights and recommendations to other communities interested in implementing a public school-based universal pre-k plan that removes 4-year-olds from the larger child care system.
Universal pre-k (UPK) is a shift from previous programs that focused on at-risk populations. Universal models are designed to accommodate all 4-year-olds in the district.

“Camp Fire First Texas has been an advocate and a leader in early childhood education issues with the goal to ensure all children have access to quality early childhood programs to help them be ready for school and ultimately grow into healthy, thriving adults,” said Lyn Lucas, division vice president. “For every action, there are effects of that action – and sometimes unintended consequences. We commissioned this study to learn what the effects of universal pre-k could be and use these findings to inform decisions and start a dialog about how to work together to support children and families.”

Key findings:

There will be negative impacts on the financial stability of child care programs. 80% of child care centers reported an impact on the financial stability of their program and 18% of all providers reported that without the 4-year-olds in their program, they are likely to close. One respondent shared, “My income will decrease at least 50% next year. This year it decreased 20%.”

The quality of child care programs is likely to decrease as a result. 46% reported they would need to increase child-to-teacher ratios to mediate lost revenue and 54% anticipate changes in the quality of their program. “Lack of that (pre-k) income would prohibit additional spending in staff training, equipment and materials,” shared one survey respondent.

Tuition costs will rise for those still enrolled or the costs per-child will increase for the classrooms serving children age 0 – 3. 85% reported that UPK will have an impact on per-child operating costs and to mitigate the loss 53% reported they would need to raise tuition for the younger, already more costly, age groups.

Finally, the unforeseen outcome is the confusion at-large about the difference between universal pre-k programs and the traditional “at-risk” pre-k program. 95% of centers thought universal pre-k applied only to those who meet the “at-risk” criteria and 55% of home-based programs were unaware of the FWISD’s universal pre-k plans.

“What we don’t want to see as a result of this study is a negative perception of the value of pre-k programs or those who are working to implement them,” said Lucas. “We know that for every $1 spent on quality early childhood programs, a 7% return is seen. We do hope this study provides awareness for Fort Worth, and any community venturing down this path, to apply the recommendations to: seek opportunities to increase public/private partnerships; improve the communication between the public school districts and private, local child care providers and work on legislation that allows increased subsidy reimbursement (CCMS) to quality programs serving the 0-3 age groups while also increasing the number of CCMS spaces for these age groups.”

Additional recommendations from Camp Fire’s Universal Pre-K Study include increasing professional development for child care directors to help them navigate the unintended outcomes of universal pre-k through business management strategies.

About the Study

Data from this research was collected from child care centers and home-based providers using an online survey, focus groups and site visits. Sixty-three providers (44 centers, 19 home-based) serving 3,397 children responded to the survey. This represents 33% of all non-Head Start licensed and registered providers in the FWISD service area.

This study was commissioned by Camp Fire First Texas, conducted by researchers from the Center for Nonprofit Management and funded by The Morris Foundation, Sid W. Richardson Foundation, Thomas M., Helen McKee & John P. Ryan Foundation and Community Foundation of North Texas.

To follow or refer to this this study on Twitter, please use the following:#UniversalPK, #UniversalPreK, #Earlychildhood, #CampFireFW, #FortWorthISD

*Based on benchmarking and review of all known, published information conducted during the course of this research, no similar study was found.

About Camp Fire First Texas

Camp Fire is one of the nation’s leading nonprofit youth development organizations, serving youth, teens and families in communities across the United States. Camp Fire programs are research-based, delivered where youth and families are via out-of-school time, environmental and camp, and teen service and leadership programs. Because youth want to shape the world, Camp Fire’s focus is giving youth and teens the opportunity to find their sparks, lift their voice and discover who they are. Camp Fire programs are proven to develop young peoples’ skills now so they can reach their full potential.