Commentary

Preschool is No Answer

By David F. Salisbury
This article appeared in the USA Today on January 10, 2002.

Those who call for more state funding for preschool age children are ignoring one important fact: American preschoolers are doing better than ever. Throughout the 20th century, the scores of preschool age children on IQ and kindergarten readiness tests have climbed steadily upward. In short, American children start school better prepared than ever. It’s not until they move up through grade school and on to high school that their performance declines.

Kindergarten teachers consistently tell us that the most important factors in school readiness are health, verbal ability, curiosity and self-esteem. Children acquire these traits best by experiencing the first year’s of their life in a loving home environment where they receive individual attention and nurturing from a parent rather than in a preschool classroom with other children and strangers. There is simply no evidence that normal children benefit from preschool any more than from ordinary parenting.

There is a great deal that states could do to improve the quality of the education that school age children receive. Providing more options to parents though school choice would be one example. Allowing parents to choose equally among available K-12 public and private schools would go along way to improving educational quality. The way to fix education is to address the issue where the problem is—in elementary and secondary schools. Funding preschool programs will not cure the erosion of educational performance that students experience later in America’s public schools.

Not only is spending taxpayer dollars on preschool programs unnecessary, its bad public policy. Government programs should not take money from some families and give it to others. When it does, it damages as many families as it helps. The tax code should not be used to subsidize preschool for some children while taxing other struggling families who choose not to place their children in preschool.

Increased funding for preschool programs may give politicians good opportunities to be photographed with children. Perhaps this is one reason why preschool programs are so widely embraced. But the facts show that preschool does not have lasting positive effects on a child’s educational experience and state legislators should resist calls to fund preschool for toddlers and young children.

David Salisbury is director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute.