By Kelly Macias | 2 January 2019
There are so many reasons to call out the GOP on its blatant hypocrisy that it’s hard to pick just one. But, for now, let’s just zero in on how Republicans so utterly and completely miss the mark when it comes to public education—specifically, the funding of preschools. You’d think this would be a no-brainer. But, as with lots of common-sense issues (think climate change!), the bulk of the Republican Party also continues to conveniently ignore facts, logic, and reasoning when it comes to investing in the education of our nation’s toddlers.
Many conservatives flat-out refuse to believe that attending preschool gives kids any kind of advantage over those who don’t, and do everything they can so they don’t have to pay for it. This results in a losing proposition for everyone. The data on this subject overwhelmingly indicates that kids who go to preschool do, in fact, fare better than their counterparts who didn’t. But it’s not just good for them as individuals. There is also a positive impact on the economies of states that invest in early education programs. In an article in Mother Jones, Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman calculates a big return on investment for these states. According to Heckman, states that “stimulate their economies with higher-achieving workers and spend less money than they would have on remedial education, health, and criminal justice” and could see annual returns of up to 13 percent.
Alabama Republicans finally caught on to this in 2013. After all, they had nothing to lose. The state has some of the worst poverty and health outcomes in America, along with its education system being ranked 42nd in the nation. And while it was not an easy sell to get its state legislature to expand a statewide preschool program for 4-year-olds, Republican state senators reluctantly agreed it do it anyway—and now, they are reaping the rewards.
In 2013, just 7 percent of Alabama four-year-olds participated in the program, which is open to all. By 2017, almost one-quarter did, and Alabama was one of only three states to meet all 10 of the nationally recognized benchmarks for preschool quality, outperforming even states like Massachusetts that are known for great public education.
The program has only been around for six years and, in that time, the data proves that students who participate consistently outperform their fellow students. In other words, Republicans in the state are finally learning something that the rest of us knew all along: Investing in pre-K education works! And Alabama isn’t the only place that is showing results.
Studies from Oklahoma and Michigan all indicate the same thing: kids who go to well-funded preschools where teachers are well-trained, enrollment is manageable, and classroom guidelines are followed routinely outperform their classmates who didn’t. They also have higher retention rates, are more likely to become homeowners, and less likely to be arrested for violent crimes.
But here’s where the rubber meets the road—this is something states and the federal government have to actually be willing to invest in. Five years ago, in his defense of cutting Head Start programs (the federal program that provides free preschool to needy families), House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed the program was “failing to prepare children for school.” Currently, there are only 16 states serving more than one-third of their 4-year-olds in these programs, and the budgets vary dramatically from state to state. Overall spending per child has declined.
Under the Trump administration, the federal government has cut Head Start’s budget as well as targeting the Preschool Development Grants Program for elimination in 2019. This move is harmful and does no one any good. Republicans claim to be the party of individual achievement, job creation, and a thriving economy but wholly refuse to put any real effort and resources into developing a society that will work for everyone to be successful and contribute. GOP leaders want folks to pull themselves up by the bootstraps (even if they have no boots) but don’t want to invest in the necessary infrastructure that will allow people to do so.
Funding early childhood education programs is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do—not just for individuals but for thriving state economies and a thriving country. As Heckman concludes, the solution for better-trained, competent workers who have completed high school is to invest in preschool education. It’s just too bad that most of the GOP is hopelessly out of step with what the country needs. Instead of educating kids, this administration is too busy separating them from their parents. It is great that some Republican-led states are catching on. Perhaps, in 2019, they’ll finally dump their cowardly, unfit national leadership and do something that puts country over party, and kids first.
Katherine Stewart: The Fundamentalist Assault on Public Education
Seeing success, conservative Oklahoma banks on universal preschool
Early Childhood Education: Essential for America’s Youth
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