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.