Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Universal Pre-K?

A chic policy proposal that has gained steam in a few different states is for the public school system to be extended to younger children. I would like to quickly examine the arguments for and against this policy.

While I do not have any background in child development, the research tends to be pretty strong that children are extremely impressionable from the ages of 3-5, and that pre-school education can have a positive impact on their cognitive and social development. Thus, universal pre-k advocates make the argument that education at the pre-school level is every bit as compelling for the state to provide as K-12 education.

To this end, advocates claim that a proper education is necessary to succeed in society, and those who do not have access to pre-school will not be able to compete academically, or in the marketplace, with those who are able to receive private pre-K education. There is a lot of truth to this claim, actually, when one looks at the education gap that exists between those on the lower and upper ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Universal Pre-K, therefore, is fundamentally a tool to provide equality to those who would otherwise not be able to receive this type of education. While that might sound great, there are also a lot of reasons to be against this policy.

1. This would cost an arm and a leg. It would cost billions of dollars a year to provide universal pre-school, and for a larger state would cost close to a billion dollars. Enacting policy of this sort would be economically detrimental.

2. A huge percentage of families do not need the government to pay for their pre-school. The same problem that occurs with other huge government programs is that the government wastes a ton of money on those who do not need it.

3. This policy is incredibly paternalistic. The state determines the best way to educate children, and limits the choice that parents have to make. Parents whose taxes are going toward the state-run pre-school will be economically coerced into sending their kids to these public schools rather than choosing a private pre-school of their choice for an additional cost. These kids are really young, and we are going to entrust hours of their care to the state, rather than schools that are chosen by parents. I do not like trading parental influence for state influence.

4. There are other alternatives. While I’m not huge on any government spending, if we must do so, let’s do it intelligently. Providing vouchers to disadvantaged children to attend the same private schools that well-off kids attend would be a far better use of tax revenues than universal pre-school. Schools that effectively prepare children for K-12 will attract more students and the market will take over as a regulatory institution. This is a viable alternative. My other favorite alternative: do nothing. In fact, let’s abolish public schools altogether… but that’s an argument for another day.


At 6:41 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...


I don’t really know anything about this plan; I am just responding to what you wrote. I would love to find out more about the issue. So, here are my responses point-by-point:

a) Why is cost a trump card here? Why isn’t the formation of children more important than expense?

b) But child care is one of the single most significant expenses for dual-earning families. I know a man and his wife that spend $900/month on pre-school. Don’t you think they would use public pre-school if it were available and do something else with that money?

c) Well, first of all, parents don’t always know what is best for their children. Secondly, thousands of American families send their children to private schools or home school their children every year in America. And the tax thing is a little far-fetched. You don’t pay taxes so that you can reap the benefits; you pay taxes so that fellow citizens can reap the benefits.

d) I think vouchers would be great for a pre-K program.

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Barnabas18 said...

J. Morgan, I don't know a ton about it either, other than that Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida, among other states, have either passed or come very close to passing it. In some form or another, universal pre-k exists in Georgia and Florida. Many advocates are pushing for it to become a federal issue, which of course would be outside the federal government's scope.

Let me respond to your points:

a) Cost is a trump card here only because it is exorbitant. If it is a bad idea in the first place, then breaking the state's bank isn't a good idea. I think it is more a harms/benefit analysis, in which cost is a huge harm.

b) I agree they would use public pre-school, precisely because it would be way cheaper. Their choice would become economic rather than for their children's best interests, and I think it would rob them of uncoerced parental choice.

c)"Parents don't always know what is best for their children," is a poor way to run a state. Issues such as the education of a 4 year old child should be left to parents, because they are in the best position to make decisions, even if they sometimes mess up. You were correct in saying many still make the decision to home school or private school, but how many more if it weren't for the simple convenience of public schools (including cost)?

d) Glad you like my alternative.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

"Parents don’t always know what is best for their children."

Ugh, that sounds like rationale for bad policy.

Vouchers are totally sweet for ALL education levels...

At 11:42 AM, Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

State control of education, especially at a young age, is a necessity in any oppressive state. When the government controls what young children learn they can corrupt the democratic system easily. We should be suspicious of any government control of schooling. We're lucky that our public schools haven't been used against us horribly so far (or have they?) but we can't assume that they never will be. Vouchers are a great alternative because then schools will have to compete and schools that are government-indoctrination mills will lose business from everyone except those who would already be teaching the same propoganda to their children. It keeps us safe from subversive government control.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

Just to clairify, I'm not being paranoid about the government controlling us and I'm not saying that the government is using public schools to undermine democracy, I'm just saying its a possibility that we need to be wary of.

At 7:50 AM, Blogger RedHurt said...

I'd like state support for education with educational freedom. I don't think it needs to start pre-k (that's called state sponsored child care), but I would appreciate a system in which I could cheaply send my kids to better schools. I think the whole public school system needs revamped, or else a voucher system imposed.

I didn't really read your whole post though, because I don't care about pre-school, and you're ugly.

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

Does anyone else find the phrase "subversive governmental control" oxymoronic?

Any replies including the phrase "I find you moronic" will be largely ignored.


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