The Undelivered Promises of Government Preschool

The Sunbury Daily Item features a recent guest editorial claiming that taxpayer funded preschool, such as Gov. Rendell’s PreK Counts, will have long-term savings by reducing crime and improving academic performance. The author claims a couple of studies back this conclusion.

What he fails to mention is that these studies were of decades-old, small, experimental programs, which served a handful of students with severe mental retardation and disadvantaged students, and provided not only preschool, but years of intervention. These programs offer little insight into state-funded “universal” or large scale preschool programs.

However, there have been studies of similar programs that are applicable. Millions of students have been served by Federal Head Start, yet all results point to the conclusion that academic gains fade after a few years. Some states have implemented universal preschool–Oklahoma was the first to do so, but has not only seen no improvement in academic performance, has actually declined relative to the rest of the country.

Large scale government-run preschool is problematic. It is a costly program, which has little or no benefit. It crowds out private options, taking choices away from parents. And it gives a public school system which is not adequately serving students from 1st grade through high school more responsibility, rather than reforming that system.