Senator Hillary Clinton recently unveiled a proposal for a new $10 billion federal program to offer preschool for all children. But, the Clinton plan is based on two flawed assumptions; first, that preschool is an essential component of all children's early education; second, that it's the federal government's responsibility to promote and manage it.
Supporters of universal preschool tout studies that show at-risk students have benefited from early intervention programs and argue that all children would benefit from early education. But a careful look at the evidence casts doubt on these claims.
Evaluations of early education interventions show that while participating students may yield gains in the short-run, these benefits typically disappear over time. Other academic studies have reported that students who attend preschool may be more likely to exhibit negative social behaviors. Even if the research supported the advocates' claims, it wouldn't justify a program that includes subsidies for middle- and upper-income families.
By offering federal grants, Clinton's plan would force state lawmakers to choose between implementing expansive government preschool programs (and receiving federal funding) or rejecting the offer and watching their constituents' tax dollars flow to neighboring states.
If history is any guide, many states will take the bait. Once they do, they will be forced to comply with burdensome federal rules governing preschool just as k-12 public schools must comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Campaign promises for new programs to help children sound appealing. But parents and taxpayers should question whether they really want Congress and the federal bureaucracy deciding how every 4-year-old in the country is prepared for school.
Dan Lips is education analyst at the Heritage Foundation and a senior fellow with the Goldwater Institute.
-Goldwater Institute: Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers and Policymakers
-Heritage Foundation: Hillary Clinton: No 4-Year-Old Left Behind
-Washington Times: Hillary proposes preschool for all in federal-state effort