James Kerian: Subsidized Preschool Is About Education Bureaucrats Not Students

When President Obama announced his war on stay at home mothers last fall he probably did not expect North Dakota’s legislature to come running to his side.  But the NEA and the Department of Public Instruction saw this as an opportunity to increase their funding and the state Senate apparently decided that if the teachers union and the DPI told them to back Obama on this issue than that was exactly what they were going to do.  The North Dakota Senate, therefore, passed SB 2151 to create state subsidies for preschool and the North Dakota House of Representatives is expected to take up the bill soon.

The liberal Republican legislators who want to buy support from the education establishment with taxpayer money may try to equivocate between this bill and the President’s goal of getting more parents into the workforce, but the teachers’ union has been quite honest and direct in linking the two.

“The push for early education in North Dakota comes on the heels of a pledge by President Barack Obama to expand early education for tens of thousands of children.”

The liberal Republican legislators who want to buy support from the education establishment with taxpayer money may try to equivocate between this bill and the President’s goal of getting more parents into the workforce, but the teachers’ union has been quite honest and direct in linking the two.

The initial justification for this expansion in the state’s education spending was the claim that putting three and four year old children in school would give them a head start in their education that would benefit them for the rest of their lives.  This claim is aptly refuted by 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 of them 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.”

The latest justification legislators have offered for this boondoggle plan is that it’s not mandatory.  It can’t hurt anybody.  It just gives people the option of having the state pay for their kids daycare but they don’t have to sign up for it if they don’t want to.

“The bill’s not mandatory. The bill’s making a level playing field for parents. What’s wrong with that?” committee chairman Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck.”

This is, frankly, nonsense.  The bill does not place any income restrictions on the subsidies and it is in no way limited to parents who would otherwise be unable to afford preschool.  This bill is not about creating options it is about nudging people to choose the option that President Obama has demanded while simultaneously increasing the revenues of the Department of Public Instruction and the NEA.

If you wanted to make a more “level playing field for parents” you could increase the child tax credit or otherwise give financial assistance directly to parents rather than funneling more cash through the education bureaucracy and only allowing parents to receive some benefit if they hand over their three year olds to the education system.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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