| May 6, 2011
A middle-class entitlement Oklahoma cannot afford
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has released its latest yearbook on state-funded preschool programs. As you may know, Oklahoma is one of the handful of states that offers universal preschool. Dr. Chester E. Finn, Jr., former assistant secretary for research and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, says he has “long harbored serious misgivings about the ‘universal’ part.” Dr. Finn, a former Vanderbilt professor and the author of 18 books, writes:
Because some kids really need a ton of preschooling and others don’t, in a time of tight resources, it makes more policy sense to focus on intensive programs for the neediest youngsters rather than on what generally turn out to be rather thin programs for everyone. And today resources are tighter than ever. In fact, 2010 is the first time since NIEER began tracking these numbers that state funding for preschool actually declined, and the yearbook states clearly that sans short-term federal subsidy it would have declined precipitously. This the authors naturally lament. But as tight resources—the “new normal”—beset federal, state, and local budgets now and for the foreseeable future, such lamentation might better be turned to refocusing the policy objective.
He’s not alone. American Enterprise Institute scholar Douglas Besharov also has expressed concern that “preschool will become a new middle-class entitlement” which shortchanges the poor. Heritage Foundation researcher Lindsey Burke calls government preschool “an expensive and unnecessary middle-class subsidy.”
Some Oklahoma parents openly acknowledge that they use preschool and kindergarten as a way to reduce their daycare costs. But with a debt load of $26 billion and a looming Medicaid nightmare that would make State Question 744 look like a picnic, universal preschool daycare is one middle-class entitlement Oklahoma can do without.