| December 12, 2011

Leading the nation?

In a talk last week to a group of conservative activists, I remarked on the oft-heard assertion that Oklahoma is a “national leader” in what’s called “early childhood education.”

Proponents cite several items in support of this claim, but chief among them is that “since the 2003-2004 program year, Oklahoma has ranked first in the nation for serving the highest percentage of 4-year-olds in its state-funded preschool program.”


Clearly, one could look at the Heritage Foundation chart above and conclude that Oklahoma is in fact “leading the nation.” But as Hillsdale College historian Allan Carlson has pointed out, Oklahoma is leading the nation in the wrong direction.

Many on the Left—President Obama, the nation’s largest teachers union, and various Francophiles, for example—may wish to lead America toward a European-style social welfare state. These same people also believe it’s a step in the right direction to get more citizens into the Medicaid program, for example. But if Oklahoma had the nation’s highest percentage of citizens on medical welfare, would we boast that Oklahoma is “leading the nation” in health care? Of course not. Most of us would be appalled by such a statistic, and rightly so. And just as government health care crowds out private health insurance (one study estimates that for every 10 new Medicaid enrollees, the number of people with private insurance falls by 6), government preschool crowds out private options. Which is why periodic news stories inform us that another private-sector preschool has been forced to close its doors. It’s hard to compete with “free.”

This encroaching nanny state—and the tax burden required to sustain it—is inimical to our American tradition. It is not something professed conservatives should favor, much less boast about. Rather than leading the nation in providing what the Heritage Foundation calls an expensive and unnecessary middle-class subsidy, Oklahoma should start leading the nation in the right direction: toward economic and educational freedom. Let us aspire to the number-one ranking in an education market index, for example, or in any of the various 50-state indices of economic freedom, or in a forthcoming edition of Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index.

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