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Watch out, Big Babysitter is in the offing

By Michael M. Bates
web posted February 20, 2006

Illinois Governor Rod BlagojevichIllinois Governor Rod Blagojevich wants to be president. The most recent indication is the $7,500 he paid last December to an Iowa political consultant who just coincidentally ran Al Gore’s winning operation there in 2000.

Milorad’s ambition also explains his need to come up with a new crusade every so often. Importing prescription drugs, purging junk food (we used to call them snacks) from state schools, and banning violent and sexually explicit video games may not be why voters elected him, but those campaigns keep him in the public eye. As the old saying goes, any publicity is good as long as they spell your name right.

The guv’s latest gimmick is a proposal to shove 3- and 4-year-olds into the loving arms of state government. Called “Preschool for All,” the plan will allow everyone – even those millionaires Democrats so despise – to send their kiddies off for a fun filled day of government indoctrination on the state’s dime.

How will this be funded? One way, the governor says, is by closing those pesky corporate loopholes. These are the ones that virtually every politician in virtually every election promises to close. If he were successful in doing this, the increased cost of doing business would accelerate the trend of employers leaving Illinois.

No doubt the people affected will be pleased to know that they lost their jobs so that some affluent two-income families can avail themselves of “free” preschool. Those rich folks can now, with Junior and Sis more or less safe at the local government facility, work longer hours so they can buy newer cars, own nicer homes and take nicer vacations.

Other revenue that’ll be necessary to fund Blagojevich’s idea will have to come from the already besieged taxpayer. Liberals love to talk about “fairness.” How fair is it to force workers earning low wages to pay for the preschool expenses of families with sizeable incomes?

The RAND Corporation found that in 2001 two-thirds of the nation’s 4-year-olds were already enrolled in some type of preschool program. When did it become an indispensable, legitimate function of government to provide to everybody, regardless of income, something that’s already widely available and utilized?

Blagojevich’s scheme has “overwhelming support from education advocates,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Gee, let me guess. Those education advocates are teachers’ union bosses and others on the public payroll whose principal purpose is to expand the demand for their services. What a delightful happenstance it is that what’s best for the children also lines their own pockets.

It’s a political article of faith that getting children into schools, particularly public schools, at an early age is beneficial. Buying into this are Republicans like gubernatorial frontrunner Judy Baar Topinka, whose initial reaction was Blagojevich’s idea is wonderful, but, gosh darn, there’s no money to pay for it.

Linked to this rush to begin schooling is the notion that kids staying at home with their parents from birth to age five or six aren’t learning anything at all. That’s palpable nonsense, as almost every parent can attest.

We already have some knowledge of what happens when the government gets involved in preschool programs. Washington has four decades of experience running Head Start, one of the jewels in Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty.

Targeting children from low-income families, its intent was to close the learning disparity often experienced by young children from that background. There were about 900,000 children in Head Start in 2003, with a cost approaching $7,000 per student.

Despite the price tag, the results have been, at best, mixed. Earlier analyses found that whatever benefits were derived were generally short lived. Such discouraging results spurred Congress to authorize the National Head Start Impact Study. This began in 2002 and will be completed sometime this year.

Initial indications are that the program will remain hard pressed to point to clear, substantive achievements. Last June the government issued an interim report based on the first year’s study. Its preliminary findings include:

“For children in the 3-year-old group, the preliminary results from the first year of data collection demonstrate small to moderate positive effects favoring the children enrolled in Head Start for some outcomes in each domain. Fewer positive impacts were found for children in the 4-year-old group.”

And that’s at $7,000 per child, an expenditure level that Blagojevich’s plan doesn’t even come close to approaching. It’s likely that Illinois’ preschools would quickly become little more than an expensive, unfair and unnecessary taxpayer-funded babysitting service.

Do we really need government for that?

Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This essay originally appeared in the February 16, 2006 Oak Lawn Reporter.


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