To the Editor:
The answer to the question posed by Kathleen McCartney in the title of her Commentary, “Why Doesn’t the U.S. Invest in Early Education?” (May 10, 2006), is visible at this very moment in California in the debate over Proposition 82. The Preschool for All initiative, which will appear on the state’s June 6 ballot, is bitterly opposed on four principal grounds.
The first deals with the advisability of paying for preschool for every child, because doing so would be subsidizing parents who can already afford the cost. But the authors of “The Economics of Investing in Universal Preschool Education in California,” the RAND Corp.’s seminal study, found that even if only the poorest 25 percent of children in the state benefited from a year of preschool, taxpayers would still expect to gain nearly $2 for every $1 invested.
The second involves the negligible positive effect on middle-class children. But the RAND investigators reported that half of all children who repeat a grade, and half of all high school dropouts, come from families in the middle 60 percent of the income scale. Any benefit at all realized by these children would boost the return to taxpayers between $2.62 to $4 for every $1 invested.
The third maintains that no differentiation is made between abysmally poor and marginally poor children. However, the cost of the bureaucracy and litigation that would be needed to determine which children qualify would exceed the cost of providing preschool for all children.
The fourth objection argues that taxing only the superrich to fund preschooling would drive them out of the state. That’s the canard always used to try to convince voters when all else fails. But the superrich will stay in California because they love the advantages their wealth and celebrity buy them there.
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2006 edition of Education Week as Whys on Early Education Are on Display in Calif.