Subsidized Degrees for Something Not Needed

It seems as if the feel good, “government helps people” stories tend to be the best examples of government behaving badly… not in the sense of mischief, necessarily, but certainly in the sense of acting without due consideration and with likely undesirable consequences.  I’m thinking of a taxpayer-funded program to get college degrees to childcare providers:

Rhode Island College is offering a program that makes it easier for childcare workers to earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, giving them a chance to teach in a public school and earn more money. 

The college has partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Education to provide childcare workers with a nearly tuition-free track to a bachelor’s degree. Paid for by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the program is aimed at childcare workers who have an associate’s degree.

Later, we learn that entry-level teachers in public schools “typically” earn about twice what some childcare workers make, but two conspicuous pieces of information are left out.  First, there is no mention of the cost of the program to taxpayers, whether state or federal.

Second, and more important, the article gives no consideration at all to whether the state actually needs more teachers certified for early childhood.  My experience, being married to a woman with that degree and certification, is that the competition for such jobs is already a challenge, making job hunts very political.  It would take some research to determine whether this is typical, but a very common career path for holders of early childhood degrees around here is several years (up to a decade or more) of waiting for the phone to ring every morning, hoping for low-paid, one-off substitute teacher assignments followed by diversion into a private school or (ahem) childcare setting that pays poorly.

The market for teachers may be different elsewhere in the country, but that’s mainly an illustration of how inappropriate it is for the government to dabble in the market.  Funding new teachers in Rhode Island is an extremely inefficient way to produce teachers for some other state in some other region.

It is, however, an sure way to buy the government some constituents in the recipients of the benefits, to create some work for unionized government professors, and to ensure that public school districts and labor unions have the upper hand when dealing with employees and members.  It’s also a good way to flood the market and ensure that the pay for private school teachers and childcare workers, generally, stays well below what the government is able to force taxpayers to pay for its own employees.

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