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The Divide Between Rich and Poor Starts Earlier Than You Think

Photograph by Twenty20

By age 3, most children are gearing up to learn their ABCs. Where they enroll in preschool, however, depends on how much money Mom and Dad can pull out of their wallets. For some parents, this means placing their kids on a two-year wait-list to ensure entry into the perfect preschool. For other parents, it means their children instead will be spending an awful lot of time baking cookies over at Grandma's house. As a result, many of the latter children are a year or so behind fellow classmates when entering kindergarten—and they never catch up.

In New York City, some of the most exclusive preschools (where kids are learning Mandarin, doing robotics and playing the violin before starting kindergarten) are charging more than $30,000 a year. That’s more than most people spend on a new car.

The average cost for a child to attend private preschool in other cities is around $10,000 a year, but not everyone has an extra $10K lying around. In fact, only 55 percent of children—between the ages of 3 and 4—in the United States, are able to attend a formal preschool, according to the Washington Post.

In a recent publication, experts take a deeper look into the lives of children who have been left behind academically and address the inequality between the haves and have-nots. According to authors of the book “Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality,” the educational gap between rich and poor has been growing since the 1970s, and it's only going to get worse if the United States doesn't step up and do a better job educating its youth.

“Early care and education in the United States is in a crisis,” education experts and authors Ajay Chaudry, Taryn Morrissey, Christina Weiland and Hirokazu Yoshikawa write in the book.

The United States currently spends $30 billion a year on early-childhood education and care, according to the Post. The authors would like to bump that number up to $100 billion and make preschool available for every child, beginning at age 3. This amount would also leave room to establish a paid parental leave program and offer greater assistance to lower-income families once a child is born.

“If I could fund one single program, it would be early-childhood education,” said John Wetzel, the longtime head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections who has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, in May.

In a country as demanding as ours, where babies are spoon-fed technology and expected to read and write before they start kindergarten, wouldn't it make sense to give them all a proper education? Because if we don't, we all have a lot to lose—developmentally, socially and economically—as one nation.

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