What is Universal Preschool?

For Providers
For Families


Birth to Third Grade &
Cambridge Initiatives

Partnership Committees

  • Steering Committee
  • Access & Quality Committee
  • Family Engagement & Partnership Committee
  • Health Committee

Defining Universal Preschool

  • Universal Preschool (also called Universal Pre-Kindergarten or Universal Pre-K) refers to government-funded programs that are free to all regardless of family income, children’s abilities or other factors.
  • While the above definition is technically accurate, there are many options for preparing young children for school success, including:
    • Expanding the School District to serve younger children
    • Providing scholarships to individual families
    • Income-based programs such as Head Start
    • Expanding affordable community-based early childhood programs

States Providing Universal Pre-K

  • Due to differing definitions of “Universal,” it is difficult to give an exact estimate; however, Vermont, Washington, D.C., Florida, and West Virginia describe their early childhood systems as Universal Preschool for all 4 year olds.
  • Around 35 states total, including Georgia and Oklahoma, support versions of Universal pre-Kindergarten. However, not every child is served.

Cambridge’s Mixed Delivery System

  • After a lengthy needs assessment process, in November 2015, the Early Childhood Task Force recommended that Cambridge adopt a mixed-delivery Universal Pre-Kindergarten system that includes Cambridge Public Schools, the Department of Human Service Programs, Head Start, and community-based providers.
  • In February 2016, the City Council approved funding to implement the recommendations
  • In August 2016, the Birth to 3rd Grade Partnership hired an Early Childhood Director, responsible for coordinating improvement of the mixed-delivery system.

Advantages of Mixed-Delivery System

  • Ensures parental choice to meet the diverse needs and philosophies of parents.
  • Community-based providers can afford to stay in operation because 3-4 year-olds require less expensive staffing ratios than infants and toddlers.
  • Preschool programs that were designed with the developmental needs of young children in mind often have more developmentally appropriate spaces for serving preschoolers than elementary schools. (Researchers refer to this as “efficient use of space”)
  • High quality programs can be aligned to the Department of Early Education and Care’s early learning standards and frameworks.

Disadvantages of a Mixed-Delivery System

  • There is less opportunity for quality control and more variance in program quality.
  • There will be uneven teacher qualifications and pay within the system.
  • Can be come detached from learning standards because quality initiatives are voluntary.