On one hand, the bills most outspoken proponents are the technocrats who seem to believe that the earlier we can stuff kids into the public education system assembly line the better off they’ll be. They tout all sorts of dubious data – Senator Tim Flakoll (R-Fargo) actually claimed that early childhood education can reduce crime and incarceration rates – which justifies more education earlier, meaning that if you oppose them you’re anti-education and pro-criminals. Or something.
Forget that a major study into the Headstart program by the federal government (data Flakoll referred to as a “myth” during the floor debate) finds that the impacts of early childhood education largely dissipate by the 4rd grade.
Remember that this push for early childhood education comes after the push for all-day kindergarten. Now that kindergarten is all-day, they want to make pre-school the new kindergarten. Which, of course, means more teachers hired, etc., etc. Makes you wonder if this is really about academic outcomes, or just a sop to the education industry.
But on the flip side, the way this bill goes about funding early childhood education has some appeal for school choice proponents like myself. Basically the bill appropriates $6 million to issue $1,000 per-student grants to early childhood education programs whether they’re run by public or private entities. That’s basically a voucher program, though proponents of the bill have pushed back against the user of that term to describe it.
Indeed Senator Connie Triplett (D-Grand Forks) spoke against the bill, and voted against it as well, claiming that a move toward vouchers would damage the “integrity” of the state’s public education system. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) pushed back against Triplett’s claim that the bill is vouchers. “I don’t think we’ll see the camel’s nose under the tent,” he said in response.
I’d like to believe that this legislation had more to do with a move toward school choice policies than a rote expansion of the education bureaucracy’s empire, but I just don’t think that’s the case. Given that the benefits of these sort of programs claimed by proponents are outlandish (to put it mildly), I’d rather see the bill fail.