The Campaign Spot

The Other Side of the Story on Hillary’s Universal Pre-K Plan

Senator Hillary Clinton unveiled her latest education reform proposal today, a plan to expand pre-kindergarten classes to serve all of America’s 4-year-olds by providing states with matching funds to devise their own programs and requiring that classes be taught by highly-trained teachers. She put the cost at $5 billion in the first year and increasing to $10 billion over five years.

To hear Clinton tell it, the benefits of universal preschool are clear and obvious. Not so, according to the research of the Reason Institute.

To help determine the efficacy of early education programs, we examine the results of some of the programs considered to be early education models—including, Perry Preschool, Chicago Child Parent Studies, Abecedarian, and Head Start—and find the research to be flawed and therefore of questionable value. We also review information from the National Center for Education Statistics, which reports no lasting reading, math, or science achievement differences between children who attend half-day and full-day kindergarten. We also examine the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress in Georgia and Oklahoma, where universal preschool has been fully implemented without quantifiable benefit. We find the widespread adoption of preschool and fullday kindergarten is unlikely to improve student achievement.

The Pacific Research Institute noted, “In January 2006, UC-Santa Barbara researchers found that whatever student achievement gains can be attributed to preschool attendance largely evaporates after a few years in elementary school. In other words, by about 2nd grade skill levels of children who attended preschool and those who did not were the same and remained so throughout the rest of their education.” 
Again, preschool is something that is nice to have, and there’s some evidence of a short-term benefit. But there’s a question of whether that short-term benefit is worth the cost (if universal pre-K for California was estimated to cost $2.4 billion, how far would $5 billion go across the country?) and whether taxpayers should be paying to subsidize the pre-K education of the children of the rich.
Just last year, California voters rejected a statewide initiative that would have added a 1.7 percent income tax on individuals making at least $400,000 and couples earning more than $800,000 a year in order to pay for a state-run universal pre-K program. Sixty-one percent of California voters said “no,” despite the best poltical efforts of Rob Reiner.

Dan Lips, an education analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said that beyond the cost of the program, California voters were skeptical of the idea of the state subsidizing all families’ pre-K education costs, not just those in need. “It amounted to a tax increase to pay for subsidies for children from even the most affluent families.”

 

Lips also noted that the imposition of a new universal state-run program would have a massively disruptive effect on current child care system, creating a strong financial incentive for families to opt-out of whatever care options they are currently using, be it private or church-run preschool or daycare, a stay at home mom, other relatives, etc.

 

It is worth noting that Mitt Romney vetoed legislation to create universal pre-K programs in Massachusetts. His successor Deval Patrick has not moved quickly to create a new program, citing the expected cost.

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