| May 9, 2011

When government replaces family

Oklahomans may not realize this, but our state constitution originally required compulsory school attendance for children “between the ages of eight and sixteen years, for at least three months in the year.” The legislature later expanded the school year and lowered the age to seven, then to five. Today, an astonishing 71 percent of Oklahoma’s four-year-olds are in state prekindergarten. Incredibly, 2,325 three-year-olds were in pre-K classrooms last year. One is reminded of the fire captain’s remark in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451: “We’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle.”

But with $26 billion in debt, I would suggest that Oklahoma simply cannot afford to continue on this downward trajectory. The fiscal costs are troubling enough, but what’s worse—much worse—is what this burgeoning welfare state does to the character of our people. “What happens when people ignore Tocqueville and common sense and start to rely on the government to meet a family’s most fundamental responsibilities—that is, the care of parents and children?” asks author Denis Boyles. “That’s what France has done—and with catastrophic results, as the events of August 2003 grimly demonstrated.”

It’s time for Oklahoma policymakers to reverse this trend. One small step in the right direction would be to move the preschool and kindergarten cutoff date from September 1 to July 1, giving youngsters a little extra time to mature before placing them in institutional settings. The nonunion teacher organization Professional Oklahoma Educators surveyed its members last week and discovered they overwhelmingly favor this idea, saying it would reduce discipline and remediation problems.

As Goldwater Institute president Darcy Ann Olsen memorably phrased it, we need to stop trading sippy cups for school desks.

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