Possibility Of Vouchers Is Only Reason To Support Early Childhood Education


Very often lobbyists representing educator groups or unions are accused of being more concerned with policy that benefits educators as opposed to policy which benefits students.

I think that truism manifested itself yesterday during a committee hearing over SB2151 which would create a state early childhood education program. But what’s interesting about the bill is that, despite denials from its supporters, it’s sort of education vouchers for pre-kindergarten education.

According to the language of the bill, each child enrolled in a state-approved pre-k program would earn for said program a state grant in the amount of $1,500.

Early childhood education is a fashionable thing in education policy circles these days despite strong evidence that pre-kindergarten education produces few measurable academic improvements for kids.

But emotions (it’s for the kids!) matter more than facts when it comes to education policy, so we’re just going to have to ride this one out. Still, if we’re going to do early childhood education, why not make it a voucher system which directs public dollars to the public and/or private programs parents choose to send their kids to?

It makes perfect sense, but the teacher unions hate it, which was something on display during SB2151’s hearing yesterday:

No one testified against the bill Tuesday, but Aimee Copas, executive director of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, suggested strengthening it by requiring that the coalitions of providers that must be formed under the bill commit to serving all eligible children to provide “universal access for all our kids.”

“We don’t want anyone turned away,” she said.

Copas also asked that the legislative intent reflect that the bill isn’t an inroad to vouchers for students to attend K-12 private schools, saying superintendents “believe public dollars should stay in public buildings.” North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta also said the union believes early childhood education can “be the great equalizer” that benefits students throughout their academic careers and helps end cycles of poverty, but it doesn’t want the bill to be an entry into a voucher system.

In other words, Copas and Archuleta want this early childhood education program in-so-far as it would funnel more money to teachers from which they extract membership dues. They don’t want this program in so far as it might give parents the idea that they should be empowered in directing where education dollars go through school choice.

Again, I don’t think early childhood education is worth the dollars spent on it, but if it could get a foot in the door for school choice policy, I’m all for it.

Lawmakers should pass the legislation with the explicit intent of implementing it as a voucher program. Absent that, they should kill this idea like they did last session.