Back in October President Obama argued for preschool over parents when it comes to raising children. In Democrat jargon you could say that he announced his “war” on stay-at-home mothers as he insisted “that’s not a decision we want Americans to make.”
Here in North Dakota the Democrats and the left wing of the Republican party have taken up this cause. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler recently lamented that with “only” 36 percent of North Dakota children enrolled in preschool we rank “the fifth lowest in the nation. We as a state can do better than that.”
Advocates of the policies proposed by the president (and by Ms Baesler here in North Dakota) might deny any interest in influencing parents’ decisions and suggest that they only want parents to have the option to enroll their children in preschool. This claim seems to directly conflict with reality, with the President’s clear language and with Ms Baesler’s lament about where the state ranks in terms of the percentage of children in preschool. But even if their sole objective in subsidizing preschool was to make the option more widely available it would still be a terrible misuse of educations funds (aka your money).
The long term educational benefits to “early childhood education” (i.e. preschool) are non-existent. Study after study has confirmed the “fade-out” effect. This means that while sending your three year old to school may make her more likely to test well when she’s five that effect will fade-out in the following years and by junior high there will be no detectable difference in the test scores of those who went to preschool.
The push for government funded preschool is not about the education of children, it’s about using education funds to buy influence, votes and campaign contributions.
Supporters say that subsidizing preschool will “allow more parents to enter the workforce or increase their hours from part-time to full-time.” That’s a political way of saying that it will drive down wages by increasing the ratio of employees to employers. It glosses over the fact that parents will be forced, as taxpayers, to pay for preschool and then only “allowed” to receive any benefit for the money that is taxed away if they “choose” the “option” of enrolling their child in preschool and entering the workforce. This is not a downside for employers (who make most political donations) but it is an example of cronyism that should be widely condemned.
Of course there will be some households who were planning to place their children in preschool/daycare anyway and they might be grateful for the state picking up the tab. There’s a rich tradition in Washington DC and in Illinois of buying votes with other people’s money but, again, this is not a game Republicans ought to advance both because it is wrong and because the Democrats will always be willing to pay more.
Finally, the North Dakota teachers unions are arguably the most politically effective left wing organizations in the state given the sorry condition of the Democrat party here. Teachers unions have an obvious financial self-interest in the expanding of the public education system and it is hardly surprising that the politicians with the closest ties to these unions are the ones most aggressively pushing for government funded preschool.
It is appallingly disappointing (if not surprising) to see several North Dakota Republicans join President Obama’s crusade for subsidized preschool. Hopefully the majority of legislators will recognize this proposal for the counter-productive boondoggle that it is and it will be quickly voted down just as it was during the last legislative session.