By Rob Roper
When the state started to ramp up its government-funded, government-run pre-kindergarten programs in 2005-2006, the rhetoric was all about how great this would be “for the kids.” We needed to get more children into these “high quality” programs for their own good. Brain development is at a critical point between birth and five. You’ve likely heard the story. But what was and is still missing from this discussion is the undisputed fact that the best situation for a child from birth to age 5 is to be home with a parent, or, barring that possibility, a family member.
So, why isn’t figuring out ways to make it easier for kids to stay home with a parent (or grandparent) in the early years the objective of state policy? Back in 2006, speaking to the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce on the issue of universal pre-K, I pointed out that the real reason for this is that the programs weren’t concerned with what’s best for children, but rather what’s best for businesses — getting mom and dad away from their baby and back to work, even if that had a negative effect on childhood development (not to mention taxpayers). My remarks were met with shock, indignation and protestations of innocence. How could any feeling human being believe such a thing?
Well, here we are today. Let’s Grow Kids paid for a 3,500 word infomercial article in Seven Days (perhaps elsewhere) touting, “Right now, some young parents who want to work are dropping out of the workforce because they can’t find care for their kids. Vermont can’t afford to lose them.” And, “This financial assistance could be described as an investment in the state’s future workforce.”
This “financial assistance” (aka government spending) could also be described as “corporate welfare,” and damaging to our state’s future workforce.
Since 2006, Vermont has grown state spending and regulation of pre-K programs significantly, and now Let’s Grow Kids is asking for $800,000,000 a year for a comprehensive birth to five program. What are the results? Fourth grade scores are falling and behavioral problems are on the rise.
Back in 2017, then House Education Committee chairman David Sharpe, D-Bristol, noted that there has also been, along with falling test scores, an increase in the number of disruptive students in the classroom. This prompted him to inquire, “I applaud your [Pre-K advocates] efforts, but are we creating these agencies to replace parents because we’ve created a culture where mom and dad get up every day and go do work and aren’t a part of their kids’ lives? Did we create this problem by creating a culture where children are without parents for so much of their life?”
Yes. These programs are not about what’s best for kids; they are not about what’s best for parents. They are, in fact, damaging to both. Government-funded pre-K is about what’s best for employers — forcing taxpayers to subsidize employees’ childcare expenses.