Preschool funding is at a 10-year low, which isn't surprising considering evidence that it's ineffective.
A new poll shows most parents don't think the government ought to pay for it.
This is the Choice Media Ed Reform Minute for Thursday, May 23.
The National Institute of Early Education Research released its annual report a few weeks ago. It's 156 pages long, and covers government funded preschool programs in all 50 states and DC. They reported that states cut their preschool funding by $548 million, the largest one-year drop ever, to the lowest level in ten years. Again, that's the state funding.
Two weeks ago there was news that the federal preschool program, Head Start, would be cut 5.3%, down to $7.6 billion.
So what is preschool? When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was a candidate, he used the term "babysit" to describe government-sponsored preschool, causing a stir.
After all, school used to begin in first grade. Then, they added kindergarten. Then, some places added preschool for 4-year olds. Then in some places, 3-year olds. Have high school graduates become smarter as a result, now that 41% of 4-year olds are in preschool?
In two reports by the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that administers Head Start, they determined that Head Start was not effective. The more recent of the reports, from December of last year, concluded that Head Start by the end of 3rd grade produced very little impact, "in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices."
Again, this is from the group that runs it.
But could there be a disconnect on the issue of government-sponsored preschool? Could there be people who are really just want free daycare, but have learned that if they refer to it as "school," it will garner more support?
There are, after all, many supporters. Since Head Start's creation in 1965, the government has provided more than $180 billion for it. Plus, the Obama Administration’s proposed 2014 budget includes a Preschool For All Initiative, which be an additional $75 billion over ten years paid for by new cigarette taxes. By the way, it turns out the "All" in Preschool For All isn't exactly all, but only low-to-moderate income families.
Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation is puzzled by the commitment to a program proven ineffective by the agency's own research.
The administration, their proposal right now is to spend more federal money to send that to states to try to get states to grow their government preschool programs while at the same time expanding Head Start and expanding Early Head Start and according to the administration, to get more 'infants, toddlers, and 3 years olds' enrolled in preschool programs. It’s just interesting when you consider that the administration supports growing Head Start and Early Head Start in the wake of this damning evaluation by HHS.
Burke continued that the only way to make the current system effective, rather than scrapping the thing and starting over, was to incorporate more choice into the proceedings. She said voucherizing the Head Start dollars would allow parents to seek out schools that best suited their children’s needs.
I think if the federal government is going to continue funding Head Start, which I think should be a big if, at least they should be allowing states to make their head start dollars portable, basically voucherizing Head Start and allowing poor children to attend a private preschool provider of choice that better meets their unique learning needs. I think that would be a big improvement.
Preschool doesn't appear to be one of those government-funded programs supported by the public, like Social Security or Medicare. A Reason-Rupe poll from this month showed that 57 percent of people oppose the government funding of preschools.
Lisa Snell, Director of Education at theReason Foundation, says Head Start supporters are keen to ignore the evidence of its ineffectiveness because they just like the sound of a program providing preschool to poor kids.
There’s just less money to go around to fund everything. Head Start is particularly troubling because the Head Start Impact Study and other kinds evidence show that it’s not particularly effective. For policy makers it’s kind of this cardiac evidence where we know in our heart it works, and yet we won’t look at the real evidence, and so we keep making these investments. The problem is that money that goes to Head Start or that money that goes to state programs they’re all basically cannibalizing each other for the same revenue because there’s only a certain amount of resources for education available.
Back to state spending on preschool, the National Institute of Early Education Research report ranked the states. Most money given to preschool programs on a per student basis by state governments: New Jersey. Ten states give no money to preschool.
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