James Kerian: Subsidized Preschool Is About Coercing Parents, Not Giving Them Options

When President Obama was promoting subsidized preschool last fall he said of stay at home mothers “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”  It’s tempting to think that he didn’t really mean that.  It’s right there in his own words but one initially believes that he must have meant to say that it wasn’t a choice Americans should be forced to make, right?  Unfortunately, no, the left’s push for subsidized preschool has nothing to do with expanding parents’ options.

It has everything to do with using taxpayer incentives to get parents to choose the options that the left thinks they should choose.

In addition to pouring taxpayer money into subsidized daycare preschool the president is also proposing tax credits that would only be available to double-income households.  The left will allow you to weigh your options and decide whether or not you will send your 3 year old to school… but only while they’re pouring your own money onto one side of the scale.

With SB 2151 the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, unable to pass up an opportunity to increase education spending in the state, has persuaded many Republican legislators to join Obama’s war against parents who choose to not to send their 3 year olds to school. This is not a new discussion for the country or for the Republican party.  In “A Choice Not An Echo” Phyllis Schlafly recalls a dispute over the party platform at the 1984 Republican Convention:

“One major effort at [the convention] was on behalf of federally controlled and federally financed daycare… The pro-family counterattack was to advocate a child tax credit in the income tax code so that parents can spend their own money for the child care of their choice.  That proved to be the winning argument.”

It should still be the winning argument today.  According to Pew Research more and more families (including those of modest income) are choosing to have one parent stay home and 67% of mothers would prefer not to work full time while their children are young.  Obviously for many of these parents that will not be an option and if the state would like to empower parents with an expanded child tax credit that would be a proposal worth considering.  These voters, these citizens, these parents, however, deserve better than for the state legislature to be using taxpayer funds to create a system to nudge even more parents away from the parenting arrangement that the vast majority of them would prefer.

There’s no excuse or justification for coercing parents into placing their children in preschool.

This is not to suggest that preschool is never a good option.  I attended preschool as a child because preschool was the best option for our family at that time.  My children do not attend preschool because them staying home is the best option for our family right now.  Preschool is a complex decision for each family and neither President Obama nor the state legislature has any business trying to nudge, shove, push, ease or otherwise manipulate parents into making one decision over the other.

The government uses subsidies or tax credits to encourage people to save for retirement, save for their kids’ college, buy a home and, of course, send children to grade school and high school.  Is subsidized preschool just another instance of the government coercing parents towards something that benefits all of us?  No.

K through 12 education has proven, obvious, demonstrable benefits to the child’s educational development and, therefore, to the country as a whole.  The same simply cannot be said of the subsidized daycare preschool that President Obama and his supporters in the North Dakota legislature are attempting to impose.

This study from the University of Chicago and the University of California, this study by the Department of Health and Human Services, this study from Vanderbilt and this Office of Planning Research and Evaluation report all have confirmed the “fade-out” effect of preschool programs.  As the OPRE report stated “In summary, there were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices.”  There’s no excuse or justification for coercing parents into placing their children in preschool.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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