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Wanted: More Life with Parents, Not Government Preschool

In his February 12 State of the Union address, President Obama called for another “universal” government program―universal preschool.

“…[N]one of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.

“And that has to start at the earliest possible age. You know, study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.

“But today, fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So, tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”

Never mind that the federal budget today cannot possibly pay for universal preschool, or that it’s not the role of government to provide glorified daycare for every American child.

The truth is, the government has been trying to close the “preschool gap” for more than forty years, with almost nothing to show for it. For years, the Head Start program, begun by President Johnson in 1965, has been known to be a failure by both academic and social development standards.

According to Elise Hilton of the Acton Institute, “[e]ven the government knows this is true. The Department of Health and Human Services has admitted ‘by third grade, the $8 billion Head Start program had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants. On a few measures, access to Head Start had harmful effects on children.’”

Let’s not go farther down that road. We don’t need every American child spending more time in classrooms, younger and younger. We need an economy that empowers parents both to support their families and to spend time with their toddlers, letting them experience the wonders of the real world. More kids need to be able to explore life with Mom and Dad. Then more of them will come to grade school ready to learn.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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