Obama’s pre-K plan drawing support, despite evidence that early education is a waste of taxpayer money

Oct 23, 2013 by

PHILADELPHIA – Back in his “State of the Union” address last February, President Obama introduced his $75 billion plan to work with states “to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.”

The president’s proposal generated some media buzz, but it quickly died out, leaving his plan largely forgotten – until now.

In mid-October, four Pennsylvania district attorneys gathered in front of a state prison to rally support for the “preschool for all” measure.

“We are the people who are paid later when you do not invest in early childhood education,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said, according to Philly.com.

“We would all much rather see kids in graduation gowns and caps than handcuffs and prison jumpsuits,” District Attorney Thomas Hogan added.

Former U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Chris Dodd are also making the push for “common sense” universal preschool. (The terms “preschool,” “prekindergarten” and “early education” are used interchangeably.)

“There is little debate that education is key to a child’s future success, or that it is key to our global competitiveness as a nation,” the bipartisan pair wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed. “But one of the most overlooked ways to improving educational opportunities in America is reaching kids early enough.”

They cite a study that found “every public dollar spent on preschool returns $7 through increased productivity and savings on government assistance programs and criminal justice costs.”

The nation’s teacher unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – are longtime riders on the pre-K bandwagon. The unionists must be thrilled to have a noteworthy Republican like Frist join them in singing from the big government hymn book.

But are these claims true?

Might better-funded prekindergarten programs be the magic formula that can solve America’s educational, social and economic ills?

A failed experiment

Not according to the research.

Russ Whitehurst of the liberal Brookings Institute recently conducted an in-depth analysis of the effects of preschool on student achievement and concluded there are “modest” academic benefits of early childhood programs, but they “fall far short” of what advocates promise.

Whitehurst’s findings complement a 2012 Department of Health and Human Services study that revealed the federal early childhood program known as Head Start has “had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants.”

Another federal study from 2010 found any benefits children gained by participating in Head Start were completely gone by the first grade.

The report was “definitive evidence that the federal government’s 48-year experiment with Head Start has failed children and left taxpayers a tab of more than $180 billion,” wrote Lindsey Burke and David Muhlhausen in an analysis for the Heritage Foundation.

But what about the study that Sens. Frist and Dodd cited that says preschool programs offer a $7 return for every $1 of “investment”?

That study – known as the Perry Preschool Project – was conducted 50 years ago and involved 58 students. As conservative writer Phyllis Schlafly has noted, the study is hardly indicative of normal preschool programs today, which are little more than government-subsidized “daycare” centers.

Unionists’ ulterior motives

If preschool programs don’t really pay dividends, what accounts for their popularity among the political class?

Many pre-K supporters are well-meaning individuals who have an unshakeable belief that – regardless of what the evidence shows – these programs help low-income families. Therefore, Americans should spend more money on early education so more children can have access to them.

The unionists and their allies, on the other hand, have proven time and again they don’t make decisions based on the well-being of children. Big Labor leaders shill for more pre-K funding for a very simple reason: It grows their ranks.

Head Start employs more than 200,000 workers, and many of them have been organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the nation’s largest and most politically influential labor groups.

Former SEIU President Andy Stern reportedly visited the Obama White House 53 times before leaving that post in 2010.

The unionists stand to benefit financially and politically with every dollar that gets poured down the “early education” drain.

And the reality is that more money will get funneled into early education. The emotional appeal of helping poor and minority children get a better start in life is just too strong for politicians to ignore. That means the pre-K issue isn’t going away any time soon.

However, if there is to eventually be “universal preschool,” lawmakers should follow the advice of Whitehurst, the Brookings Institute scholar, and insist that parents be allowed “to choose their preschool provider rather than creating a new zip code education system in which the local school district assigns preschoolers to schools.”

Obama’s pre-K plan drawing support, despite evidence that early education is a waste of taxpayer money – EAGnews.org powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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