Politics

02.13.13

So Let's Talk About Universal Pre-K

As usual, when it comes to the rankings of OECD countries, on pre-school, the United States is down toward the bottom of the barrel, down there near Greece and Turkey. The average across the OECD countries in 2008 was to have 77 percent of three to five-year-olds enrolled in pre-school. The US figure looks to be about 58 percent. So it's just another one of those obvious good things that we're not going to be allowed to do in this country because of our ridiculous right wing.

But even so, it'll presumably happen someday or another, and there are going to be one hell of a lot of Barack H. Obama Pre-School facilities around this country when that day comes, believe you me. And Obama is going to put forth a specifical proposal. What will it look like?

Jon Cohn of TNR is on the spot with this one. Here's what he wrote just hours ago:

...the plan will probably resemble a recent proposal from the Center for American Progress.

That proposal actually has several components, including financial assistance to help parents pay for infant and toddler care as well as additional investment in the Early Head Start program. But the biggest component is a proposal to partner with states, matching their investments dollar-for-dollar, with a goal of subsidizing preschool based on income. For children in families with household income below twice the poverty line, or about $46,000 for a family of four, preschool would be free, just like public education. (In case you were wondering, by the way, participation in the program would be strictly voluntary. Nobody is mandating that anybody go to preschool.)

Price tag: $10.5 billion a year. Not nothing. But something that obviously pays big dividends over the course of a child's upbringing.

I'm one of the lucky ones. My two-and-a-half year old is in a Montessori school. The things she's getting out of that experience cannot be priced. Her brain is a sponge, and it's soaking up so much. I couldn't imagine her just sitting at home every day. Even if my wife and I worked really hard at it, she'd still be watching too many Wiggles videos, to say nothing of just being alone instead of learning socialization.

But this is one of those cultural divides. It's not only about how we pay for this to right-wingers. To this army of religious home-schoolers, it's about some absurd paranoia about indoctrination too. I'll never forget hearing some conservatives speak at a big winger conference about a decade ago. Several of the speakers really did seem to think that Hillary Clinton wanted to take people's children and force some of kind socialistic education on them. When you have people spouting and believing idiocy like that, it's kind of hard to make rational policy.