Academic and financial costs of taxpayer-funded preschool questioned, alternatives proposed at news conference
HARRISBURG, PA — Today, the Commonwealth Foundation joined with a coalition of organizations to call on lawmakers to fully count the academic and financial costs of Governor Ed Rendell’s “Pre-K Counts”. The groups encouraged members of the General Assembly to embrace “Pre-K CHOICES”— a better approach to expanding preschool options for parents without further burdening taxpayers.
“Gov. Rendell’s proposed $75 million for ‘Pre-K Counts’ is a costly one-size-fits-all, bureaucratic approach to preschool that will be detrimental to children, families and taxpayers alike,” said Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation and a former teacher and public school board member. “In contrast, ‘Pre-K CHOICES’ builds on the already successful Preschool Educational Improvement Tax Credit by offering parents more choices among quality schools without increasing school property taxes.”
In support of the “Pre-K CHOICES”, the Commonwealth Foundation released two publications—a policy brief on the limited benefits of taxpayer-funded preschool, and a fact sheet on the estimated costs of taxpayer-funded universal preschool—which are available at www.CommonwealthFoundation.org. Estimated costs for universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds in Pennsylvania, once fully implemented, range between $1 and $3 billion in additional spending (depending on the number of children enrolling).
“Gov. Rendell’s $75 million is only the down payment on taxpayer-funded preschool in Pennsylvania,” said Brouillette. “It will be school district homeowners who have to keep paying the monthly costs of these programs through higher property taxes. When local school districts are eventually forced to pick up the tab, the average homeowner could see a property tax increase upwards of $894 per year.”
In contrast to proposals for taxpayer-funded universal preschool, the coalition of organizations pointed to Pennsylvania’s successful model of funding preschool education for low-income families—the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC).
- The EITC provides tax credits to corporations that contributed money to state-approved scholarship organizations.
- The preschool scholarship portion of the EITC—which is currently limited to $5 million per year—has provided nearly 11,000 students over the last three school years at a per-student average cost of $1,370. Gov. Rendell’s “Pre-K Counts” program would cost taxpayers $75 million per year at an average per-student cost of $6,750—five times greater than the costs of EITC-funded preschool.
- The EITC promotes educational and academic diversity by encouraging private, religious, and public delivery of preschool education. “Pre-K Counts” will promote a homogenous approach in which government bureaucrats make important decisions, and the values of Harrisburg—rather than the values of parents and school communities—are taught.
- The EITC encourages businesses to take an active role in funding preschool options for families, whereas “Pre-K Counts” will cost state taxpayers and lead to higher school property taxes.
“Expanding the government’s control of preschool education to three- and four-year-old children won’t cure what ails Pennsylvania’s public school system,” said Brouillette. “But expanding the cap on EITC preschool scholarships would keep control and choice in preschool education in the hands of parents, while offering aid to low-income families at a much more affordable price to taxpayers.”
Joining the Commonwealth Foundation at a news conference at the state Capitol were representatives of the REACH Foundation, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the Keystone Christian Education Association, and the Pennsylvania Family Institute.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Policy Brief, Taxpayer-Funded Universal Preschool in Pennsylvania: Benefits Questioned, and PolicyPoint, Taxpayer-Funded Preschool: Counting the Costs, can be found here and here, respectively.
The Commonwealth Foundation is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.
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