, Salem, MA


April 12, 2014

Column: Why Salem should push for universal preschool

There is no shortage of reasons to give every child a strong start by investing in early learning.

High-quality preschool improves student performance and reduces the academic achievement gap as those kids progress through school. It reduces the need for special aid and other expensive public services as the child grows — so much so, that the benefits can outweigh the costs. Children who go through preschool are more likely to go to college and enter the labor force as more productive workers, another benefit to the economy.

But let’s add one more reason: The boost that universal preschool could bring to the local economy in a city like Salem, and what it would mean to an average family.

In the 2008 to 2012 period, the average household in Salem earned $56,580 — above the national average of $53,046. But after you take out taxes and add in the average costs (for Massachusetts, or for Salem specifically where available) for health care ($4,465), rent/mortgage ($15,252), food ($9,932), heat and electricity ($2,258), car/gas ($2,033), clothing, personal care and household supplies ($6,000), you are down to $5,563.

That’s $5,563 to pay for preschool and everything else.

Here’s the rub: In Massachusetts, preschool costs an average of $11,669 for a 4-year-old. So ... we’re $6,106 in the red before even considering paying for student loans, vacations, holiday events and various other things (we bet your family would appreciate gifts on their birthdays).

This is probably why 27.8 percent of the 1,268 preschool-aged children in Salem aren’t in preschool, and why many parents stay home. In Massachusetts, some 60,000 preschool-aged kids are not in any kind of preschool program.

As one mother recently told us: “I thought I was on top of things. We were saving for college before I even got pregnant. But no one warned me that we would need to save for preschool!”

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