Disabled Students’ Right to Education in South Africa

By: Leah Johnson

It is imperative that development practitioners working on education projects take into account all students’ needs, including those of the most disadvantaged populations. Schools should prioritize providing adequate training for teachers and school officials to ensure that the integration of students with disabilities into traditional classrooms is beneficial for all involved. Likewise, students with disabilities should not be charged fees that are not also placed upon students without disabilities. By removing these barriers, students with disabilities in South Africa and around the world will be able to access one of their fundamental rights: education.

This lack of a basic system to educate students with disabilities in South Africa severely limits this population’s potential. Children with disabilities enter the education system much later on average than their counterparts without disabilities and are more likely to drop out or finish school without successfully completing basic education. This problem limits the future prospects of children with disabilities. Furthermore, in cases where children with disabilities have access to education, they are often required to pay fees that are not mandatory for children without disabilities.

International organizations have made efforts to remedy the failure to educate children with disabilities. In 1990, the World Conference on Education for All brought together major players in international development, specifically those who focused on education. The result of this conference was the World Declaration on Education for All (WDEA), a declaration aimed at guiding governments, international organizations, educators and development professionals. The overall vision of the WDEA is idealistic; it promotes equity through the universalization of access to education for all children, youth, and adults. Likewise, the 1959 United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child called for universal, free, and compulsory education with a basis of equal opportunity. This idea is often called inclusive education. The UN defines inclusive education as “a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners.” Despite these efforts, students with disabilities are often segregated from larger populations. The inclusion of disabled students in traditional learning settings rather than segregated schools is an important part of creating a truly inclusive setting.

Studies conducted as early as the 1990s show that inclusive education benefits both students with and without disabilities. According to special education researchers Caroline Moore, Debra Gilbreath, and Fran Maiuri, in 1998, students with disabilities who were placed in integrated classrooms showed more motivation to learn, greater levels of on-task behavior, and improved grades and standardized test scores. Moreover, integrated classrooms did not hurt the academic performance of students without disabilities, nor detract from the amount of engaged instructional time. In fact, instructional strategies like peer tutoring, cooperative learning groups, and differentiated instruction have been shown to benefit all learners.

In the early 2000s, the South African government began pursuing inclusive education. Their endeavor, as outlined in White Paper 6, aimed to reduce segregation by eliminating the use of categories of disabilities as an organizational principle, placed an emphasis on supporting learners through full-service schools, and directed the set up and resource allocation for initial facilities. It also introduced interventions to train educators and gave direction for the Education Support System, a network of support services for both educators and students. Unfortunately, despite this targeted policy, progress there has been slow. Nearly 70 percent of children with disabilities are not enrolled in school, and students who do attend are often placed in separate, “special” schools for learners with disabilities. This is exacerbated by the ambiguity in the policy itself, which lacks clear goals, a strategy to achieve them, and effective implementation. Additionally, the failure to understand childrens’ disabilities and inadequate teacher training means that many teachers and school officials simply do not know how to work with students with disabilities in a classroom setting. While the South African policy calls for an incremental assimilation of students with disabilities into the existing school system, this has not been achieved.

To continue to work towards an inclusive system of education in South Africa, development practitioners need to construct and implement transparent and implementable programs. Prioritizing training will allow teachers to make their current learning environments inclusive. Second, practitioners should advocate for policy changes so that students with disabilities are afforded legal rights and protection. Lastly, practitioners should engage with local communities to fight against biases against children with disabilities that are ingrained in the culture. This holistic approach involving the entire community will ensure a strong support system for students with disabilities as they pursue their education.

Leah Johnson is a second year Masters of Public Administration student focusing on international management. She is currently working as a research assistant intern with the American Institutes for Research and hopes to continue to work in international development and create empowering programs. Her policy interests include refugee and migrant rights, education, and fighting human trafficking.



Image Source: UNICEF

The Consequences of School Voucher Programs

The recent appointment of Betsy Devos as the US Education Secretary reignited the controversial issue of school voucher programs. Proponents of vouchers, including Devos, argue that school choice increases public schools’ performance due to the competition presented by private and charter schools. However, research shows that vouchers, at best, provide mixed results for students.

Lower Student Performance

A study conducted by the Brookings Institute observes the impact of statewide voucher systems implemented in Indiana and Louisiana. The results show that a student in Louisiana ranked in the 50th percentile of math scores while in public school, but fell to the 34th percentile after one year using a voucher and attending a private school. Reading results also declined; students at the 50th percentile fell to the 46th percentile. Indiana experience similar results. Students’ scores fell from the 50th percentile to the 44th percentile in math after a year of using a voucher. These results show that private schools do not necessarily provide students a better education than public schools.

The Brookings study does show that voucher students in New York City and Washington, DC had improved reading and math scores; however, additional research supports the findings from Indiana and Louisiana. According to the National Education Association, low income students participating in a Milwaukee voucher program did not perform significantly better than their public school counterparts. In Cleveland, students attending newly established private schools via voucher programs performed at significantly lower levels than both their private and public school peers by the end of their second year.

It is important to note that although private school students historically score about 15 to 20 points higher on standardized tests than those in public school, it is not necessarily due to better teaching. High performing students often self-select into private schools, causing the increases in scores. Parents of children in low performing public schools cannot surmise that their child would perform better in a private school.

Decreased School Choices

Aside from achievement discrepancies, other obstacles exist in the voucher system. The vast majority of students in states and cities with robust voucher programs do not use them due to an array of barriers, disproving the myth that vouchers expand choices for parents. For example, the Milwaukee’s voucher program only allows for 15,000 participants, which is less than 10 percent of the city’s public school students. Only 5 percent of Cleveland students use vouchers, two-thirds of which have never attended public schools. In Florida’s statewide voucher plan, only 7 percent of schools in the state said that they would accept voucher students.

The Case for Improving Public Schools

Research shows that improving existing public schools allows for greater increases in student achievement. Milwaukee public school students who attended schools with smaller class sizes and enhanced professional development for teachers outperformed other public school students in the city and private school students. In Florida, schools that were identified as “critically low achieving” improved after two years of program redesign and increased community involvement. Additional methods that show promising results include teacher pre-service training, after school and summer programs, student health and nutrition programs, and increasing standards in math, reading, and science curricula.

Rather than harmlessly co-existing with public schools, research shows that the presence of charter schools actually harms public schools. Once schools lose students to other options via voucher programs, schools struggle to pay expenses such as utilities, maintenance, and staff. Additionally, public schools are often responsible for educating English learners and special education students, which places a large financial burden on them. Some districts, such as Nashville, Los Angeles, and Buffalo have lost between $57 million and $591 million due to the increased presence of charter schools.

School vouchers are not a saving grace for American students. Although they have been successful in some locales, existing research shows that students often stagnate or even regress once participating in a voucher program. Rather than funneling students out of public schools, local governments should improve the deficiencies in public schools so students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to receive a quality education.


Image Source: NBC News

Are New Education Guidelines Sweeping Vulnerable Populations Aside?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was a major piece of legislation passed with a bipartisan consensus and signed by President Obama on December 10th, 2015. The bill was intended as a replacement for the No Child Left Behind Act and made major changes to the way that states report their education plans to the federal government, how standardized tests are administered and reported, and gave a lot of power back to the states. So why is it now seeing major changes under Betsy DeVos and her new Department of Education? Ultimately it is an unsurprising move that is consistent with the Trump administration’s priorities of removing regulations that it views as harmful or overly restrictive. What we should be concerned with is how schools must now report data relevant to vulnerable school populations.

Broadly, the new guidelines for state education plans simply require less, but an interesting point of wonkish concern relates to how the states are now required to report their testing data. The ESSA requires states to test students less than No Child Left Behind, but standardized tests are still administered in critical subjects like math and reading, and the data is used much less punitively. Previously, when reporting testing data to the federal government, states were required to break out testing data for vulnerable student groups if their populations were over a certain size. “Vulnerable students” are groups such as English as a Second Language (ESL) learners or special education students.

The ESSA did not set a minimum size for these groups, but it did provide guidelines for the maximum size states could use, which was set to 30. This means that states could choose any n-size they wanted under 30, as long as they used valid statistical methodology to do so, and anything over 30 was considered invalid unless they could provide good reasoning for doing so.

To link this figure to actual implications, consider you are running a school. At your school, you have 25 ESL learners and you are not serving them well. Under previous guidelines, their testing data would likely be reported separately, allowing the federal government to act to protect and serve them better. Under the new guidelines, the state can set the observation/ N size to 30, 35, or 40, and their data stays hidden with the rest of the students. This matters for two reasons. First, vulnerable student populations can stay hidden under these guidelines as outlined in this report by the Office of Special Education, and even worse, they can simply be swept under the rug by irresponsible educators. Second, if a low performing group is being folded into the rest of the testing data, this can drag down overall numbers and cause a misinterpretation that a group that is being served well by the education system is not being served well at all.

Keeping this information in mind, what would be a good N-size to use that would provide the most accountability for state educators, while maintaining the privacy of students and their data? According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a n-size of 10. In 2010, NCES released a report that details how states could easily report testing data with an n-size as low as 10 while still maintaining the privacy of the students involved.

No matter where you stand on education ideologically, you can agree that having more data is always a good thing. It keeps school districts and states accountable, it allows educators to better serve their student populations, and it protects groups that are typically swept under the rug. We already see this happening in states like Texas, where special education students were consistently not provided even the minimum educational benefit required by federal law. It is also worth noting that new ESSA state plans have begun to trickle in, and while some states are lowering the population sizes that they use for reporting data to 10, many are still maintaining high population sizes for accountability purposes. Anyone who is pro-accountability should find these new ESSA guidelines to be incredibly suspect and it is likely that we will see more vulnerable populations suffer before this misguided policy move comes under greater public scrutiny.

Image source: Gerald Herbert, AP

Denying Students the Services They Need to Succeed

In a recent Houston Chronicle Expose, it unmasked how unelected state officials have devised a system that has kept thousands of disabled students out of special education. As an educator in rural Mississippi, I was horrified by this piece and its findings. I’ve had the opportunity to teach students with disabilities and have seen first-hand the value and necessity in these various services.

Texas is the spotlight regarding this growing concern over cuts to special education services and the long-term impacts of the children that get left behind. In 2004, the Texas Education Agency created a regulation that restricts the amount of students who receive special education services to 8.5 percent. Furthermore, this regulation punishes schools that fail to abide to this benchmark. These new expectations are part of the Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis, which has led thousands of disabled students to be excluded from special education services.  School districts across the state have started to classify students as “504’s”, which allows students extra time on examinations but declines them access to special education services. Districts have also convinced parents to pull their children out of public school. This system has been so “effective”, yet roughly 250,000 students that have a right to services such as therapy, counseling, and one-on-one tutoring are being turned away. Technically, it’s illegal for states to cap special education. Texas’ way around the Individual Disability Education Act, a law that gave every child, including those with disabilities a right to access public education, was to count the number of special education students as an indicator of school quality. The effects of this percentage are reflected in the chart below:

This chart displays Texas’s “unofficial” special education cap. Looking at 2004 to now, Texas has 46 percent less kids with learning disabilities the percentage of students with emotional and mental illnesses, orthopedic impairments, speech impairments and brain injuries has also dropped significantly. This drop is most apparent in big cities – Houston and Dallas offer only 7.4 percent and 6.9 percent of student’s special education services. The origin of this “indicator” is rooted in Texas official’s decision to cut Texas Education Agency’s budget by $1.1 billion dollars. This drop is due to Texas’ system using low special education percentages as an “indicator” of school quality, not due to a decline of students who need special education assistance.

On average, educating a special education student is twice as costly as an average student.  The federal government pays only 20 percent of the cost of special education leaving a state like Texas to  spend nearly $3 billion in 2002; the main factor in creating the 8.5 percent cap on special education services.  According to former Commissioner Shirley Neeley Richardson, this 8.5 percentage was a “first stab” at addressing the high percentage of special education students. This “first stab” has been remarkably effective, as 96 percent of all districts have reduced their special education rates since 2004. Districts that did not abide to this percentage had their funding cut and were forced to provide a corrective action plan that would reduce special education percentages. Districts have also cut percentages by forcing families to bear the burden for disability evaluations, claiming there is a waiting list and falsely telling parents testing only happens once every two years.

However, one should not make the mistake of believing Texas and other conservative states are the only ones neglecting special education. Lawsuits have sprung up throughout the country, including in progressive states such as California and Massachusetts. A lawsuit in California heard by the federal courts dealt with parents throughout the state who argued that California wasn’t providing adequate education to disabled students. Parents in California fought in some cases for a decade to get their child the help they needed. A lawsuit also occurred in Massachusetts where the Massachusetts Advocates for Children argued that children are being left without services for months at an early age, stunting their developmental progress. As shown through Texas, California and Massachusetts, there are not enough protections in place for students with disabilities.

To ensure that students are provided adequate resources and equal access to a quality education, the federal government should cap itemized deductions for households. Per a CNN article, if the federal government caps itemized deductions to $50,000, roughly $749 billion would be raised in the next decade. If lawmakers want to make sure charitable contributions are not taxed, roughly $490 billion would be raised. The government should cap these deductions and stipulate that school districts must spend 50 percent of all additional funds received from this revenue towards special education students. This would give school districts the funding they need to provide students with an equal and equitable education.

Every day that the federal government stands absent, more students with disabilities are being neglected and falling further behind. Stella Young, a disability rights activist once wrote, “My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” We must act so that all students persevere in an environment that will allow them to succeed.

Image source: Marilyn Nieves, Getty Images

To Drive Down Higher Education Costs, Fund Public Colleges

The growing expense of higher education has become a pressing concern in recent years.  In tuition alone, it currently costs $39,508 to get a 4-year degree from an in-state public institution, $97,960 for an out-of-state institution, and $135,010 for a private one, not including the cost of books or board. Education prices increased an average 5.2 percent from 1995 to 2015, higher than even healthcare at 3.7 percent and total inflation at 2.3 percent. The class of 2015 graduated with the highest student debt levels in history, averaging $30,100 per student based on self- reported data from non-profit, four year schools; the average would likely be even higher if data for every single student was recorded.  Excessive costs and debt loads further drive inequality by weighing disproportionately on low and middle-income families. Americans are also no longer leading educational attainment, with fewer 25-34 year olds having college degrees than Canada, most European Union countries, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea as of 2008. Additionally, American 25-34 year olds had lower levels of education attainment than 35-44 year olds, whereas the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average saw a substantial increase in education level for the younger age group, not a decrease.  This costs the US in the long-term as a less-educated workforce loses competitiveness against other developed countries.

Little debate centers on if the cost of higher education in the United States is a problem. Rather, it revolves around the best way to fix it.  The Obama administration favored keeping student loan interest rates low, increasing Pell Grant awards, offering larger education tax credits, and incentivizing states to reform higher education policies. Low interest rates and Pell Grant awards, while helping affordability for individual students in the short run, do basically nothing to reduce skyrocketing tuition charges and the other costs of attendance associated with universities.  These interventions don’t incentivize schools to cut costs and don’t address underlying reasons for tuition increases. If anything, the effect of expanded federal aid may be the opposite of its intention; grants and cheap credit drive up costs as universities raise tuition in response to the larger money supply in the education market. At for-profit institutions, increases in federal aid disbursements due to policy changes led to corresponding increases in sticker prices; while the price increase effect differs from institution to institution, the definitive conclusion is federal aid to students certainly does not decrease prices.

This leaves one feasible option to curb higher education costs, and that’s directly funding public colleges and universities. One of the biggest root causes of tuition increases is that states are shifting funding further and further away from higher education. State spending per student is the lowest it’s been since 1980 and tuition fees, on average, now account for more than 50 percent of education costs at public research universities.  The government spent $31.4 billion on Pell Grants alone for fiscal year 2015, but only 31 percent of Pell Grant recipients studied out of a sample of 1.7 million graduated in six years.  This means a large portion of federal aid money gets sent to students that don’t graduate, without even considering the amount spent on subsidizing interest on federal loans, university tax breaks, and work study programs.  A more efficient use of funds would be to hand $31.4 billion to states to use towards their education system, under the condition it be used in addition to (not instead of) spending already spent by states on their higher education systems.

While discontinuing Pell Grants and shifting the money towards state education systems would make it potentially more difficult for low-income students to attend private schools, the fact is most Pell Grant recipients already attend public institutions. From 2012 to 2013, 33 percent and 32 percent of Pell Grants went to public two-year and public four-year institutions, respectively.  Only 14 percent went to private non-profits and 21 percent went to for-profit universities, and remember, the latter category tends to increase tuition prices with increases in Pell Grants.  Pell Grants end up being a backhanded way of subsidizing the costs of private educational institutions, something the federal government arguably has no obligation to do.  Putting Pell Grant money towards state institutions to begin with addresses one of the root causes of tuition increases, which is decreases in state funding, allowing public schools to lower their costs to begin with.  Aside from Pell Grants, federal education tax credits and tuition deductions totaled $20 billion in 2011. Roughly 57 percent of tuition tax deduction benefits went to households making between $100,000 and $160,000 but only 4 percent of the tax deduction benefit went to households making under $25,000. Low-income students that are hardest hit by college costs would benefit more by funding public institutions with that $20 billion and lowering tuition to begin with instead of making it a tax expenditure.  The same argument can be made for putting the money the Department of Education spends on interest for subsidized loans towards reducing public tuition costs instead of spending it on interest. Driving down public school tuition would also incentivize private institutions to lower their own costs in order to remain competitive.  The same principle behind instituting a public option in health insurance can benefit higher education. Funding higher education entirely for everyone would likely require higher taxes, but dismantling the economically inefficient system in place would be a large step towards making it affordable, just by shifting around money we already spend on it.

Image source: Brian Snyder, Reuters

Questioning the Efficacy of Corporal Punishment in Modern Day School Systems

My first week teaching high school in rural Mississippi, I witnessed my principal walk down the cafeteria hallway with a three-foot paddle, hitting the palm of his hand as he screamed, “Who am I going to get? Who am I going to get?” The students just stared at him. Some in fear, others in amusement; they all knew what was coming. Someone was about to experience corporal punishment.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort.” The UN committee promotes the prohibition of corporal punishment worldwide. Currently, corporal punishment is banned in 42 countries. However, 19 states in the United States still employ corporal punishment in schools. The question that must be asked is, who is facing corporal punishment and is it effective? An analysis of federal data from 2009 to 2010 showed that 838 children were exposed to some form of corporal punishment on average each day in public schools, leading to over 150,000 instances a year. A civil rights report conducted by the U.S Department of Education found that in 2011-2012, that number had increased to 167,000 students who had received physical punishment, such as paddling, during the school year. Due to the rising trend in incidences, corporal punishment in schools must be addressed.


The states that use corporal punishment are in the southeastern region of the United States. In the same civil rights report, Mississippi and Texas made up 35 percent of reported cases of corporal punishment. Adding Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia to the mix accounted for over 70 percent of all children disciplined with physical force in the U.S. According to the U.S Department of Education, black students make up 16 percent of students enrolled in public schools, but are 35 percent of those physically disciplined. Black children are three times more likely to receive corporal punishment than their white peers. This is reflected in a chart below:


This disparity in corporal punishment however can be broken down by state. The Brookings Institution stated that black students are “twice as likely to be struck as white students in North Carolina and Georgia, 70 percent more likely in Mississippi, 40 percent more likely in Louisiana and Arkansas.” Clearly there is an issue of racial disparity in regards to corporal punishment. It is unclear whether its use is due to it’s effectiveness or a result of discriminatory behavior.

Proponents of corporal punishment argue that it is an effective disciplinary tool. As a teacher, I was told that the use of corporal punishment was a “cultural component” of Mississippi. However, research shows that corporal punishment is not only administered by racial lines, but it also has long-term health consequences. Pediatrician, Donald Greydanus, testified before a congressional hearing in 2010, on the effect corporal punishment has on academic success. Greynadus argued that physical discipline makes the school environment, “unproductive, nullifying and punitive,” and teaches that, “violence is acceptable, especially against the weak…” Furthermore, the International Journal of Business and Science found that the overuse of corporal punishment can have negative effects on children, such as stimulation of aggression, development of strong anxieties, imitation of methods of punishment, feeling of helplessness, aggression, social withdrawal, feelings of inferiority, substance abuse and many more. The report also found that adolescents that have experienced corporal punishment show higher levels of depression and feelings of hopelessness.

Our education system is designed to build students into productive members of society; clearly corporal punishment has unintended consequences and is a short sighted disciplinary tool. Supporters of this method, however, will argue that the policy is already set and has proven to be legal in the judicial system. In Ingraham vs. Wright, the Supreme Court decided that it is the state’s right to determine the legality of corporal punishment. However, despite this there are steps that can be taken to diminish and decrease the use of corporal punishment in schools.

In many school districts, administration can deliver corporal punishment without impunity. As a teacher, I have witnessed how harmful this lack of accountability is as it leaves the punishment of a student at the faculty member’s discretion and/or bias. Rather than allowing administrators to automatically have the right to use corporal punishment on students, the federal government should create a policy that requires parents to opt-in to corporal punishment at the beginning of each school year. This would severely decrease the ability of school districts to use corporal punishment because it would require parents to come in to the school and sign a paper that allows their children to be physically punished. Such a policy would make corporal punishment inconvenient and it would also force parents to question the efficacy and morality of allowing their child to be physically punished by school leaders.

Thus far, the most recent piece of legislation introduced was H.R. 2268, Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act of 2015, but has not yet been taken up for a vote on the House floor. It’s time for the policy of corporal punishment to be confronted so that all students can attend a school environment that is just, safe and focused on building them into the leaders and learners of tomorrow.


Image source: Edx, Saving Schools

Universal Pre-K: A Parent’s Perspective

Becoming a parent changes an individual fundamentally. I was interested in childcare policy before becoming a parent, but now when I think about childcare policy, I think about what is going to be best for my smiling one year-old twin girls. One of the major issues in childcare policy is the cost of childcare and an often-proposed remedy is government-provided Universal Pre-K. Under a Universal Pre-K program, all children can attend preschool and eliminate a year or two of childcare costs that parents are currently paying. Yet, political and financial constraints of states make taking on the cost burden largely unrealistic.

The cost of childcare is a major concern for all but the wealthiest of parents. In 2006, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) indicated an average cost between $3,000 and $13,000 per year for childcare (Palley and Shdaimah, 2011). Personal experience over the last year (along with market evidence) suggests that the price has risen. American University’s Child Development Center costs $1,365 a month for their services, which is a discount compared to what other community members pay. This amounts to over $16,000 a year per child. Sending two children to the Child Development Center would cost roughly $32,000 a year. If an individual’s net pay is about two thirds of their gross pay, then they would need a job paying more than $53,000 in order to afford childcare. This does not include rent or mortgage, car payments, or medical expenses.

A common objection to any sort of state-sponsored childcare, including Universal Pre-K, is that keeping the children at home with the family is better. The expectation is that a mother or father has a network of people within their family or friends that can assist with raising and caring for their child. The truth is many parents don’t have that kind of support. Having family or friends watch a child for little or no cost is a wonderful thing, but plenty still need more extensive childcare and must pay for it.

Universal Pre-K, providing high-quality preschool to every child, is one of the policy solutions floating around to help solve some of these problems for parents while helping students prepare for elementary schools. As the race to the White House in 2016 ramps up, the Democratic contenders are likely to bring up this issue. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton support Universal Pre-K. Clinton has supported this issue previously in Arkansas, as First Lady, and as a Senator in New York. In June 2015, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Clinton introduced her plan for Universal Pre-K, ambitiously planning to make preschool available to all four year olds over a 10 year period. She plans to build on President Obama’s Preschool for All proposal for full day preschool that was introduced in 2013 but didn’t advance through Congress. She particularly pointed to a lack of funds in Early Head Start and Early Head Start Child Care Partnership grant program, and indicated that she would double the investment. These proposals seem geared to relieve the burden of paying for childcare for low-income families. Clinton also said she would offer parents a tax cut for the middle class to help pay for quality childcare.

Senator Sanders also supports this issue; interestingly, he has it listed at least twice on his website, both as a women’s rights issue and as an income inequality issue. Since Sanders frames the issue as an income inequality issue and Clinton’s initial proposals are geared towards low-income children, it seems likely that the Democratic candidates will focus on low-income students through programs like Early Head Start and will consider Universal Pre-K a secondary policy goal.

Relieving parents of the burden of paying for child care while increasing educational opportunities for kids is hard to oppose. The key question given how tight budgets are and how impossible it is to raise taxes is how would these programs and policies be funded? A 2014 piece in The Atlantic poses this very question, and suggests rather than trying to fund preschool for all children, the focus should be on low-income students who are likely to benefit the most from preschool. The article points out that while the long-term benefits are unclear, there are short-term benefits that suggest that it helps to close the achievement gap.

As a parent, I truly believe every child, no matter a parent’s income, should have access to high quality pre-school and/or other child care options that are convenient for parents. With that, other issues that arise in childcare that restrict access such as waiting lists, expensive application fees or expensive monthly fees also need be addressed especially in the policy decision-making process. As a policy analyst, I understand that there are limited funds. Thus, it is logical to focus on children who may benefit the most from preschool such as low-income children.

Many families across the U.S. cannot afford to spend $32,000 a year on day care. Parents who may have incomes that Sanders and Clinton would consider higher than middle class are probably stretching every dollar or going into debt to make sure their children have the best childcare services they can find. For some, that means working two jobs and spending less time with their kids. For others, it means choosing not to work and losing ground in one’s career, as well as adding financial pressure on the working parent. It also means compromising on the quality of care for your child and leaving them in a place or with individuals that compromise their chance to succeed academically, or generally in life. This is the most painful truth for any parent.

If policymakers pursue options such as ratings for childcare centers and providing incentives for additional childcare workers, which will lower costs and increase access, a broader spectrum of parents and families will benefit.

Image source: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post