| November 9, 2010

Wise investments for the beginning of life

Tomorrow marks the launch of the newly created OKCEOs (Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunity), an organization "advocating investment at the beginning of life in order to promote early school readiness and the preparation of a workforce that can compete in the national and global economy."

"The greatest return on investment occurs when human capital development focuses on the beginning of life. Support for parents as first teachers and primary influencers in the lives of our children is the core principle of our efforts," says Smart Start Oklahoma director Debra Andersen.

I couldn't agree more with concept of "parents as first teachers." To that end, Oklahoma policymakers should recognize that the traditional family is the key to economic health and should provide a tax break for at-home parents.

Secondly, policymakers -- whose ongoing challenge is to allocate scarce resources which have alternative uses -- should focus on at-risk kids rather than funding universal preschool. In a book chapter entitled "The Impact of the Earliest Years on Students' Success," Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen concludes that universal pre-K programs "are an ineffective mechanism for addressing the challenge of preparing children for school." Heritage Foundation researcher Lindsey Burke calls government preschool "an expensive and unnecessary middle-class subsidy." American Enterprise Institute scholar Douglas Besharov worries that "preschool will become a new middle-class entitlement" which will shortchange the poor.

Just as it is wrong to provide Medicaid for millionaires (as The Wall Street Journal so lyrically put it), it is wrong to provide free babysitting for those who are perfectly capable of paying for it themselves. At a time when Oklahoma policymakers are forced to make tough budget choices with your hard-earned money, means-testing preschool daycare would be a good place to start.

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