After the last year and a half of disasters in public schools — from closures pushed by teachers unions to radical curriculum based on critical race theory — policymakers are now seeking to expand the government’s reach so they can meddle in the upbringing of our country’s youngest children too.
Parents disgusted with public schools’ COVID-era failures and curriculum controversies should reject the idea of putting the government in charge of daycare and preschool. But that’s precisely what Congress wants to do and is working to ram through as a part of its so-called “human infrastructure” bill.
Massive Funding = Massive Control
The mammoth budget resolution working its way through Congress allocates hundreds of billions of dollars for childcare and preschool. It would likely require states to develop and submit childcare plans. Parents have every reason to fear that a government-approved preschool and daycare program would create the same problems parents face in K-12 public schools.
The federal government may promise just to partner with states and localities by providing taxpayer funding, but it will also set regulations and expectations for who can staff these preschool and childcare centers and what must occur in these facilities. Indeed, the White House gave a preview of what this would look like when describing President Biden’s so-called American Families Plan, most of which has been absorbed into the bill.
“The President’s plan will also ensure that all publicly-funded preschool is high-quality, with low student-to-teacher ratios, high-quality and developmentally appropriate curriculum, and supportive classroom environments that are inclusive for all students,” the White House fact sheet said. Want to guess what “developmentally appropriate” curricula and “inclusive” environments for America’s three-year-olds will contain?
Parents paying for their own programs now might shrug this off, assuming it will only affect other facilities that work with these bureaucracies. But any preschool or daycare program that doesn’t meet those requirements (and therefore isn’t eligible for any of this funding) will struggle to compete with these heavily subsidized alternatives. That means many private options, including faith-based programs, will disappear. Parents will be left with fewer options, outside of whatever government offers.
Doubling Down on K-12 Schooling Disasters
To imagine what government-dictated preschools might harbor, parents need only look at how public school students have fared recently. Last year, families across the country saw teachers unions fight to keep schools closed and deny children in-person instruction.
Even as late as May, only 54 percent of K-8 schools offered fully in-person instruction. The effects on students — particularly for special needs children, English language learners, and students from low-income families — was devastating.
These failures were compounded by concerns about what the schools were actually teaching, particularly controversial political topics like critical race theory. I know this first hand.
As a public school parent, I witnessed my daughter taking a survey that said she was guilty of a microaggression, and therefore potentially racist, for sins such as using a British accent or questioning if the Black Lives Matter movement unfairly leaves out other races. It’s no wonder public school enrollment has declined, and more parents are demanding greater choice to escape assigned public schools.
The Myth of Government-Approved Daycare
Undeterred by the failures of the public school system we already have, proponents of universal preschool programs tout the potential rates of return in the form of better prepared and successful students. In selling the concept earlier this year, the White House suggested the financial return of universal preschool could be more than “three times greater than the investment.”
But the public should note that these proponents never cite Head Start — the federal government’s existing, $10-billion-per-year preschool program — as evidence. That’s because congressionally mandated studies of Head Start have failed to show lasting benefits for Head Start participants (and Head Start has been plagued by fraud and mismanagement).
Instead, proponents typically cite decades-old intensive programs that served very at-risk families. Those programs are interesting, but are not proxies for universal preschool programs that serve the general population.
There are better ways for policymakers to ease the burden on working families, particularly those with younger children. They should seek to reduce regulations that make care needlessly expensive and scarce, as well as explore tax changes to allow parents to keep more of their own money.
They should not, however, double down on the failed model of our increasingly politicized public schools, which parents are fleeing en masse and cannot be relied upon to do their most basic jobs of providing in-person service and teaching core knowledge and skills to the next generation.