Government-Pushed Pre-K May Be Worse than Neutral

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Progressive politicians, like Rhode Island Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, simply assume that more government support for pre-K is a good thing, and the news media doesn’t help.  In 2014, for example, WPRI reporter Dan McGowan characterized RI’s program as “one of the most successful state-funded pre-K programs in the country,” but all of the benchmarks used to determine “success” are inputs, like teacher degrees, free meals, and number of students per teacher.  “Success” in those terms is basically measured in the cost of the program — as in, “we’re successful at making people give us money and power.”

Lindsey Burke and Salim Furth, of Heritage, have looked at the research and found that government-centered pre-K programs have no measurable academic benefit and may, in fact, do harm academically and, especially, behaviorally.  Sure, it creates new union jobs and encourages more families to organize themselves around government dependency, but that comes at a cost.  Note this, for example, in Quebec:

The program has had a large impact: privately funded child care arrangements have almost disappeared, and Quebec has the highest rate of subsidized child care in Canada, at 58 percent in 2011.

One can’t help but wonder whether that was more the goal than an unfortunate side effect, but other results were surely unintentional:

Regrettably, new research has found that children who became eligible for the program in Quebec were more anxious as children and have committed more crimes as teenagers. The availability of day care clearly worsened children’s non-cognitive “soft” skills.

Why is this?

The effects could be occurring through any (or all) of three channels:

  1. Worse care for children who would have been cared for by a family member if day care were not subsidized;
  2. Worse care for children who would have gone to a less-regulated, non-subsidized day care; and
  3. Spillover impacts on children who are not participating.

So while all of the “success” benchmarks cited to push Rhode Island’s program forward were of the form “we think this must be a good thing,” evidence of actual outcomes is not encouraging.

We can predict, however, how government will respond as its programs harm the economy by withdrawing money that would have been better spent elsewhere and harm students by reshaping their early lives to put them in something resembling the public school system that we already know to be failing in Rhode Island:  Elected and appointed officials will all claim that they need more money and more authority over our lives and must put more private companies out of business in order to fix the intractable problems of our humanity.



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