August 24, 2007 12:14PM

The Myth of Pre‑K

From the Washington Post comes another shoddy mainstream media report on the magical benefits of pre‐​kindergarten. The only controversy reported in the piece is between those who want universal pre‑K and those who just want the program to target the poor. I guess the reporter couldn’t imagine someone having a reasonable argument against government provision of pre‑K.

Government pre‑K supporters say that it saves money by preparing young children for later schooling. In truth, pre‑K costs billions of dollars but returns little benefit. Supporters base their claims on reports that have been proven wrong; they make wild and ungrounded assumptions, elementary mistakes in calculations, and conflate the effects of preschool with other major interventions in the participants’ families that some programs have made.

When we look at actual universal pre‑K programs in action in Quebec, Georgia, and Oklahoma, we see that pre‑K costs far outweigh the benefits. Indeed, in Quebec researchers found that the program has had a negative effect on some students. And even the good effects fade out as the students move through grade school.

The government school lobby is trying to change the subject and grab some more money on top of the half a trillion dollars it already commands. Pre‑K is no substitute for fixing our K‑12 education system.

It’s ridiculous that pre‑K supporters try to trick the public into a billion‐​dollar boondoggle based on myths. If they want to help poor kids and make good use of education dollars, there is one proven policy, and that’s school choice.

The small choice programs already operating have saved states at least $444 million and improved the lives of thousands of kids. And if you want pre‑K, funding private provision of it through education tax credits makes a lot more sense than expanding government‐​run pre‑K. Pennsylvania already has a corporate donation tax credit pre‑K program for low‐​income kids that’s helping thousands of children with a relatively small amount of money.

Pre‑K is just the latest money grab from a government education industry that desperately wants to change the subject from its failure to deliver in K‑12.

What we really need is educational freedom through education tax credits.