Universal Government Preschool is a Bad Idea

preschoolBack in 2006, California voters decisively rejected liberal Hollywood director/activist Rob Reiner’s ballot initiative that would have provided government preschool to all four-year-olds. Yet, like a bad penny, efforts to resurrect universal government preschool keep turning up.

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California’s newly elected governor Gavin Newsom campaigned on a promise to expand dramatically government preschool programs to younger children. He outlined his “California Promise” stating: “Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job and successful career.”

In December, Democrat California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty introduced several preschool-related bills, including one that would provide “high-quality universal preschool” through a combination of various programs “to all four-year-old children.”

California isn’t the only place pushing universal preschool.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has rolled out a $175 million plan to offer government preschool to all four-year-olds by 2021-22. Interestingly, universal preschool proponents often cite the results of an earlier preschool program, the Chicago Child-Parent Center program for low-income children, to bolster their case for universal preschool. However, looks are deceiving.

It turns out that the Chicago Child-Parent Center program relied on extensive parent training, a feature notably absent from universal preschool proposals such as Assemblyman McCarty’s in California.

As psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson of Children’s Hospital in New Orleans noted, if policymakers mistakenly believe that preschool results in better life outcomes, “they may mistakenly invest in these programs when the money might be better invested in parenting-skill programs or other interventions to increase parental involvement.”

Overall, data do not support the call for increased taxpayer investment in government preschool.

Proponents claim that getting more young children into universal preschool programs will boost school performance and close alleged achievement gaps.

However, Vanderbilt University professors Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey, writing for the Brookings Institution, warn that the most-cited studies used to advocate for universal preschool are inadequate for claiming any long-term benefits of pre-K programs since the programs studied were so small and targeted.

“Contemporary preschool programs are not like these intensive small-scale demonstration programs,” say Farran and Lipsey.

“To assert,” say the Vanderbilt professors, “that these same outcomes can be achieved at a scale by pre-K programs that cost less and don’t look the same is unsupported by any available evidence.”

In fact, Farran and Lipsey point out that more in-depth studies of the lasting impact of public preschool programs, including the federal Head Start program for low-income children and Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program, reveal that “early gains at the end of pre-K were not sustained as long as to the end of kindergarten.”

By second and third grade, the academic performance of children in the Tennessee pre-K program lagged the control group of children who did not participate in the program.

By third grade, the children in the Head Start program were found to be more aggressive and have more emotional issues than the children who did not attend the program.

Further, there is little evidence that universal preschool programs have lasting benefits for non-disadvantaged children.

Looking at available research at the time of Rob Reiner’s universal preschool initiative, RAND found that “children participating in preschools not targeted to disadvantaged children were no better off in terms of high school or college completion, earnings, or criminal justice system involvement than those not going to preschool.”

We all want to help children succeed and flourish. The messaging that surrounds expansion of universal preschool programs glowingly suggests that earlier schooling will close achievement gaps, improve academic performance and emotional health, and have an enduring, positive impact on a child’s life and livelihood.

Much evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Taxpayers should be wary of supporting pre-K expansion plans that may sound promising but fail to deliver desired results.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute


  1. This crap has been going on since the ERA Feminist Movement that has destroyed the lives of more men, women, boys and girls than any “ism” in recent memory – even tens of millions that never made it out of the womb in one piece.

    “Marriage has existed for the benefit of men and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women. The end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women. Therefore, it is important for us to encourage women to leave their husbands and not to live individually with men … we must work to destroy it (marriage). ”
    –The Document, declaration of feminism.

    “… for the sake of those who wish to live in equal partnership, we have to abolish and reform the institution of legal marriage.” — Gloria Steinem, speech in Houston, Texas.

    “We really don’t know how to raise children… the fact that children are raised in families means there’s no equality. In order to raise children with equality, we must take them from families and raise them.” — Dr. Mary Jo Bane, Associate Director of the Center for Research on Women. (Mentor to Hillary Rodham while a student at Wellesley where “It Takes a Village.”)

  2. The Captive says

    Haven’t these damn-Dems ruined CA schools already? They don’t know a thing about education but insist in INDOCTRINATION. They are the Left -globalists who are indeed the SHARIA SHILLS FOR TOTAL LOSS OF OUR WESTERN CULTURE! They and their ilk are totally wrong!

  3. Don’t you mean “Universal Government Indoctrination Centers”?

  4. Forget the cost and the debt of California, this is a great feel good Socialist gimmie-gimmie-gimmie for the emancipation of women from their children. No need for fathers…or mothers now…or grandparents! Uncle Gavin saves the day!!

  5. they just want to start the indoctrination earlier

  6. ANY government school is a bad idea.

  7. 4freedom, and the proof that it’s bad is in the result of the majority California voters!

  8. Indoctrinate them young and you will have them forever!

  9. Two things:
    1. First Five has been around long enough to see if any of Rob Reiners promises became fact – Audit the First Five results before pouring any more money into “pre-school”.

    2. Scam to soak up the diminishing K-12 teacher union jobs due to declining K-12 enrollments and parent dissatisfaction for Calif K-12’s chronic race to the bottom in student outcomes – #45 in the Nation. If you can only produce poor outcomes why not pass these lemons on to pre-school for glorified baby-sitting.

  10. Are you acquainted with Dr. Raymond Moore’s 1975 book, Better Later Than Early? My son did well with this manner.

  11. Bogiewheel says

    “Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job and successful career.”
    Such a memorable quote……This is the same pronouncement that Joseph Goebbels gave for the children of Nazi Germany.

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