Poverty of preschool promises

Patrick Gibbons

* 10 minute video by Reason.tv on universal preschool

The Poverty of Preschool Promises” is a new report released by the Cato Institute. According to report author Adam Schaeffer, more than 1 million children in 38 states attend government-run preschools. The results continue to show statistically significant gains in early grades which all but disappear by middle school. Typically, even those temporary gains appear significant only for low-income students. Essentially, we’ve spent billions and in the end there is no gain.

Schaeffer explains the failure: “[P]roponents often base their claims on studies of high intensity family intervention programs that look nothing like the preschool programs that have already passed and that are now being debated in legislatures around the country.” And even these high-intensity quality preschools have “generally been shown to improve the school readiness of only low-income children, and these effects usually fade quickly when the children enter the K-12 public education system.”

The report not only discusses why pre-k programs have failed and why the research supporting the programs has been suspect, at best. It also recommends an approach that offers much more promise: an early childhood education tax credit for students rather than an expensive government preschool monopoly. The tax-credit will allow individuals and corporations to claim credits for direct payment of education expenses or for contribution to scholarship programs for low-income students.

The report is about 14 pages long and includes model legislation on how to enact the tax-credit program in the appendix.