Theses Bachelor's

Playground Politics: Exploring the Actors and Factors in Universal Pre-K Adoption

Mavrides, Zoe Maria

Public access to preschool is one of the few issues in our polarized society that enjoys bipartisan public support. Yet, despite wide scale backing for early education, in practice universal access to preschool has consistently failed to find form. As of 2021, only three states offer truly universal access to preschool programs (UPK) to all four-year-olds. In 2020, only 1/3 of 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool programs. Which suggests the question: if everyone loves UPK programs, why haven’t more states embraced them? The literature has emphasized the role of elected officials, advocacy groups, and unions in leading the charge on lobbying for universal preschool. Thus, the present study poses the research question, “How do state level actors influence the adoption of state level Universal Pre-K (UPK) programs?” This study examines the level of influence of these actors in the adoption process of UPK at the state level. It includes a mixed methods study utilizing case studies of three state UPK programs with varying degrees of access, as well as discourse analysis of elected officials’ budget, union, and advocacy documents. Utilizing the social construction and policy design theory (Schneider and Ingram, 2005), the study finds that attitudes and opinion on preschool policy are influenced by structural distinctions between childcare and preschool. Emerging preschool programs frequently conflate early education with child minding, creating a barrier to access to universality. Findings point to significant presence of advocacy groups at all levels of preschool access, with a direct linear relationship between access to preschool and volume of advocacy discourse by state. While the support of elected officials appears as a prerequisite to preschool adoption, the prominent role anticipated for union advocacy did not emerge as a factor. This study points to the need for coalition building between elected officials and advocates and the need to amplify union participation.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Russell, Judith
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
April 22, 2022