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Free Preschool for All

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 5

by Taylor Ramsey

The state of California is $777.9 billion in debt. The state is also receiving more revenue than in the last several years due to higher taxes and a somewhat improving economy. My immediate thought is great, pay down the debt … stay fiscally responsible. The governor wants to create a small rainy day fund and pay down a modest amount of the debt. That is good, but it is not good enough.

Governor Brown is still moving forward with his unstoppable $67.6 billion non-bullet bullet train. Some of the funds for the train will come from the federal government and I should feel good about that. I don’t because some of those federal dollars originate with taxes paid by California wage earners.

As if that is not enough, our elected state officials who happen to belong to the Democratic Party have decided to propose California Bill SB 837 to offer “transitional kindergarten” to any four year old whose parents wish to take advantage of free pre-school. Estimates put the cost at $6,000 per kid per year.

The bill sounds good and it definitely fits the bill of making our elected representatives feel so very good, which seems to be the main criteria to pass a bill, despite the facts. But wait, the Long Beach City Council has decided to explore the idea of free preschool for children in the city of Long Beach. I guess Long Beach has a ton of money and no debt, but rest assured the council will feel good at your expense.

They are well intentioned, but that’s it. Contrary to what we like to believe, studies show that children who enjoy the advantages of preschool will do better for a year or two, but that advantage will fade away. The Dec. 18, 2012 “Third Grade Follow-up to the Head Start Impact Study Final Report” released by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services gives us an idea. The study began in the Clinton administration and ended in the Obama administration. It showed there were some good effects, but the good impacts did not remain. The study indicated the differences in performance were negligible after 3rd grade.

Grover J. Whitehurst who is director, Brown Center on Education Policy Senior Fellow, Governance Studies wrote, “Based on what we have learned from these studies, the most defensible conclusion is that these statewide programs are not working to meaningfully increase the academic achievement or social/emotional skills and dispositions of children from low-income families. I wish this weren’t so, but facts are stubborn things.”

My children went to preschool and my grand kids have, and are, taking advantage of preschool too. One might say the children in my family have an advantage over families who have less money. That may be true, but I worked two jobs for my kids to go to preschool. I like to think preschool helped my children adapt to kindergarten and stay a little ahead of the game during their school careers. However, the facts do not support my feelings.

I have expressed my ideas on these pages before regarding the reasons children excel in school and life in general. In my research for this column I never saw one printed word in the preschool data regarding “parental involvement.” In my opinion, parental involvement is what makes all the difference in the world.

Maybe, just maybe, the parent who spends their own money on preschool or goes the extra mile to make it happen, is the same parent who demands excellence at school year after year which creates good results. Parents who struggle to make ends meet can provide a learning environment in the home that will benefit their children all the way to high school graduation and beyond.

If I make the decision to create a child it is my responsibility, not the taxpayer, to provide a good learning environment for my children. Head Start which began in 1965, as the studies show, has had no significant impact in sustaining a child’s learning ability. The program has cost all of us dearly in sustaining the belief we were doing something positive while increasing federal spending and the debt.

I understand I sound pretty cold and uncaring. That could not be further from the truth. Maybe by saving the money Bill SB 837 would require us to spend we would have the opportunity to put more dollars into our communities or maybe even pay down the debt a little faster which will benefit all of us.

After all, studies show that parental involvement in the home and school removes the disparity in a child’s performance in school and life.
Twitter: @TaylorPRamsey