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Advocates Seek Universal Pre-K, but Cost-Conscious States Set Limits

(Great for sporting events and other male bonding rituals.)

"Everybody smile and wink, smile and wink, smile and wink,

Everybody smile and wink and walk around the room . . . "

(A little strange, but sometimes useful when pursuing more advanced adult relationships.)

"Everybody hug a friend, hug a friend, hug a friend,

Everybody hug a friend and walk back to your seats."

(Knowing when, and whom, to hug is one of the finer social arts.)

By then, the kids were getting a bit wild, tumbling into each other and going beyond what they had been asked to do. One child fell down. "He kissed me!" a boy complained.

A shy girl who didn't much like the exercise was on the brink of tears. Even for the very young, learning can be painful. But the storm cloud on her face passed as soon as the song was over and they started to learn about the alphabet.

Costs and Benefits

Kindergarten has earned a hallowed place as the grade in which 5-year-olds enter the public school system, to emerge 13 years later as young adults ready for college or the workforce.

Preschool, which includes various programs for children ages 2 to 4, is less closely associated with public education, and its availability in public schools varies from state to state. In addition, some parents are reluctant to place very young children in a school setting. Over the past few decades, however, states have ramped up spending on preschool, particularly pre-K for 4-year-olds.

Nationally, state and local governments spend about $4,600 annually per student enrolled in state pre-K, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. (More than $8,000 is spent per student in Maryland and about $5,600 in Virginia; statistics were not available for the District.)

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