Federal Preschool Proposal Comes With High Costs, Minimal Returns

In line with President Obama’s Pre-School for All budget proposal, Democrats have introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697 and H.R. 3461), which if enacted would create a federal pre-school program for all four-year-old children from low to moderate income families.

Introduced in November by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep George Miller (D-Calif.), the bill would provide states billions in federal grants to establish pre-school programs. The proposed bill would draw funds from not only the federal level - roughly $26.8 billion during the first five years - but also the state level, as states would be required to match the federal funding. Even estimates from the President's allies on the left put the cost of this program at roughly $75 billion. The President's budget suggested raising the tax on cigarettes to pay for this new education program, despite the evidence that it is a shrinking tax base that could never produce that kind of revenue, showing that claims that the program would be "paid for" are hopelessly false.

The Heritage Foundation’s report on the issue states:  

Policymakers at every level of government should exercise caution when it comes to establishing federal or state preschool programs. Evidence from existing programs raises doubts about their efficacy—not to mention the significant cost to tax payers.

Supporters of the bill justify the high costs by positive results produced by high-quality pre-schools. The text of the Harkin-Miller proposal reads, “Research has consistently demonstrated that investments in high-quality (pre-school) programs…better position those children for success.”

Research, however, shows a dismal track record for government-sponsored education programs. According to a 2012 evaluation conducted by the Health and Human Services (HHS) on the federal government’s largest pre-school program, Head Start, it concluded that “the $8 billion annual program had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants.” Furthermore, in 2013, Vanderbilt University released an evaluation that showed children who went through Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program actually performed worse on cognitive tasks than those who did not attend the program. 

Today, the federal government operates 45 programs across multiple federal agencies, already costing taxpayers more than $20 billion annually. The high cost to taxpayers and the lack of long-term evidence supporting federal pre-schools shows the Strong Start for America's Children Act would give our children anything but.

TAGS: Spending, issues

blog comments powered by Disqus