Republicans and Democrats don't find common ground on much these days, but they appear to agree on one thing: the importance of early childhood education.
A new national survey of 800 registered voters, released by the First Five Years Fund on Thursday, found voters prioritize making sure children get a strong start above most other issues, including improving access to quality health care, securing borders and improving roads, highways and infrastructure. Overall, 70 percent of respondents said they would support a plan before Congress that would provide $10 billion annually for 10 years in federal grants to states to support universal preschool for all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.
"It’s really nice to see an issue that has bipartisan support, and it’s not that common anymore," says Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund. "It’s a matter of finding out how to do it, not whether to do it. I think we’ve gotten beyond the point of debating whether we should, I think it’s a matter of how."
That support was also true across political parties: 60 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents and 84 percent of Democrats said they would support the proposal. Overall, about two-thirds of those polled said they think most children do not begin kindergarten with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.
Another key finding, Perry says, was although there would be an upfront investment that could increase the deficit in the short-term, voters were still supportive and agreed it would pay for itself down the road by improving education, health and economic situations for children.
"That’s an important takeaway, particularly for those who feel it’s not the right time to increase investments or spending," Perry says. "The earlier you start, particularly with children in poverty, the better their preparedness is for kindergarten and beyond, and those gains can last a lifetime. Those folks who do better not only aren't using expensive programs like special ed, but they’re becoming productive members of society and paying taxes."
More than three-quarters of those polled also said the proposal is something that should be implemented in the next year or two, and a plurality – 44 percent – said they would be "much more likely" to vote for a candidate who supported the measure.
Supporting early childhood education could also bring political benefits for candidates facing midterm elections in November, Perry says.
"There's a lot to break through in Washington in terms of new ideas and new investments, but at the same time ... the GOP is going to have to look for issues that appeal to their voters," Perry says. "It not only appeals to Independents and Republicans, but it appeals to women and Hispanics. And I think more and more they're going to have to look for issues where they can say, 'I do support something. This is the party that will support this.'"