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DoD Asks for Universal Pre-K Funds in 2024 Budget Proposal

universal pre-k

Update 34/16/2024:

The Department of Defense Education Activity, or DoDEA, has announced plans to make Universal Pre-K available at all DoDEA schools starting with 80 stateside and overseas schools in the 2024-2025 school year, with 10 additional locations added in over several years as infrastructure is created to handle the program at those bases.

When the project is completed, all DoDEA schools will offer full-day Universal Pre-Kindergarten to qualifying dependent children.

The Department of Defense has asked for just over $90 million in funding for universal pre-kindergarten as part of its proposed 2024 defense budget. Universal pre-kindergarten would benefit 4-year-old children attending Department of Defense Education Activity Schools (DoDEA), many located overseas.

The move is not a surprise; last fall DoDEA Director Thomas Brady was quoted saying there was much agreement about the need for a universal pre-kindergarten option for military families.

Benefits of Universal Pre-Kindergarten

Universal pre-K supporters believe starting education earlier can be an important factor in childhood development. The McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University conducted a 20-year study of publicly-funded pre-k programs.

Pre-K Influence in Later School Years

In an article on the school’s official site, we learn that in 2022, “…experts revealed that Tulsa’s (universal pre-kindergarten) program has successfully produced a wide range of outcomes — from early academic progress and socio-emotional development to high school graduation, college enrollment and even participation in civic life as young adults.”

If the DoD is successful, universal pre-kindergarten could be viewed as another benefit for military service, especially if the economic factors surrounding pre-k continue to make it difficult for typical families to afford it.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Consider Pre-K?

Universal pre-kindergarten is not universal. Part of the reason has to do with simple economics. An NPR Planet Money article published in 2021 notes nearly half of all 3-year-olds and one-third of all four-year-olds “were not enrolled in preschool in 2019. That’s in large part because many parents can’t afford it.”

That statistic is likely applicable to military communities as well as civilian ones. A DoD Universal pre-k program could change all that for qualifying military families.

Universal Pre-Kindergarten and the Proposed Budget for 2024

The pre-k proposal and the larger DoD budget for 2024 must still be approved by Congress. There is, at press time, no final defense budget and no specific details forthcoming about issues like when such a program might begin, at what locations, and who would qualify.

If approved, one of the benefits of having universal pre-k is how such a program would help relieve what some military-focused news publications label a “critical shortage” of on-base child care.

The DoD is not Alone in Considering Universal Pre-K

The Biden administration has drafted proposals for a national, free universal pre-k option which could be operated as a state/federal partnership.

A version of that was submitted in 2022 but did not pass. That version did not include provisions for DoDEA schools, but the raised awareness of the need for pre-k on military installations may change that for the next round of federal funding.

About the author

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Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.