Nancy Pelosi Flunks the Preschool Test: More Government Is Not the Answer

When releasing the “Economic Agenda for Women and Families,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi claimed that America has an early child care and education “crisis” that threatens our economy. Her solution is to adopt President Obama’s Preschool and Early Head Start/Child Care Initiative, and create universal government-run child care for all three- and four-year-olds.

A majority of American mothers with preschool age children are in the labor force, and most of these working moms hold full-time jobs. Specifically, 60 percent of mothers with children under six years old are employed, and around 71 percent of those mothers work full-time (35 or more hours per week). On average, preschoolers with employed mothers spend 36 hours per week in child care.

However, close to half of those children are cared for by spouses and relatives (p. 22)—a pattern that has been consistent for more than two decades (Table 3). But is this situation a “crisis,” as Pelosi suggests, or a choice?

There’s little evidence that employed moms, or most Americans, want more government. On the contrary, there’s a mountain of evidence indicating that expanding the federal government’s role in providing early child care and education won’t improve the quality of care, student learning, or affordability—much less the economy.

Expanding government’s role in this arena is more likely to impose expensive administrative burdens, crowd out innovative, personalized non-government early childcare providers, and replace a variety of early education options with a one-size-fits-all system.

To get an idea of the quality of care preschoolers would likely receive at the hands of government, we should review the government’s track record with preschool. The federal Head Start Program, managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was originally launched in 1965 as a six-week summer catch-up program for disadvantaged students about to enter kindergarten. Today this program has 964,000 enrollees at an annual cost of nearly $8 billion.

According to the two latest Head Start evaluations by HHS, any academic impacts faded out as early as the end of first grade, and others dissipated by the end of third grade. Other longstanding preschool programs touted as models for universal, government-run preschool produced scientifically suspect benefits at best, and at huge expense. Experts involved with those programs also caution that they were never intended for students from middle class families and likely would have no positive academic impacts.

If the impacts of government-run preschool don’t last past third grade, how is it supposed to bolster the economy?

Most fundamentally, the federal government has no Constitutional authority over the care and education of children. That responsibility belongs to parents, who know and love their preschoolers best.

Rather than expand government day care and preschool and encourage greater dependency on federal subsidies, all families should be able to keep more of their hard-earned money to pay for the early childcare and education they believe is best.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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