September 12 2013

Policy Focus: Saying No to Government Preschool and Child Care

Vicki E. Alger

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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, similar to many European systems.

A majority of American mothers with preschool age children are in the labor force, and most of these working moms hold full-time jobs. Yet there is little evidence that expanding the federal government’s role in providing early child care and education would improve the quality of care, student learning, or affordability—much less the economy.

On the contrary, 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.

According to the government’s own official evaluations of its longest-running early education program, Head Start, any learning gains quickly dissipate. Given government’s poor track record in both K-12 and preprimary schooling, government’s involvement should be scaled back, not expanded. And as for the economy, it’s worth noting that in spite of near universal child care, most European countries have anemic economic performance compared to the United States.

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.

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