In the United States, the chance that a child attends a high-quality preschool — which research has shown sets them on a more successful life path — often depends on whether the parents can afford it. But what if government-funded care and education of children started soon after birth?

There’s a growing movement to do so, particularly among Democrats. But they differ on how far they want to go. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders pushed universal birth-to-kindergarten plans during the race for the Democratic nomination. Joe Biden has said he would work with states to provide pre-K at age 3, but he has not offered details, and has not proposed universal child care. Mr. Sanders, who says his plan would help fight family poverty, suggested that he would challenge Mr. Biden on the issue in the debate on Sunday.

The Sanders and Warren proposals — she introduced a bill last June — would raise taxes on the very wealthy, then give the money to existing and new child care providers, via state or local agencies, as long as they met quality and teacher compensation standards. Every child would be guaranteed a spot.

“We have ideas now that we talk about that we just weren’t talking about even a year ago, a two-cent wealth tax and universal child care, that could be real,” Senator Warren recently told reporters.

It hasn’t always been the norm in parts of the United States that public school started at age 5. The first kindergartens, in the late 1800s, started at age 3. Several states and cities already offer universal pre-K, starting at age 3 or 4, including Oklahoma, New York City and Washington, D.C. In Washington, the vast majority of children attend preschool, and 86 percent of them finish ready for kindergarten, as measured by their cognition skills.
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