So, We Can Stop Pretending Pre-K Is “For the Kids.”

March 12, 2019

by Rob Roper

When the state started to ramp up its government-funded, government-run pre-k programs in 2005-2006, the rhetoric was all about how great this would be “for the kids.” We needed to get more children into these “high quality” programs for their own good. Brain development is at a critical point between birth and five…. You’ve likely heard the story. But what was and is still missing from this discussion is the undisputed fact that the best situation for a child from birth to five is to be home with a parent, or, barring that possibility, a family member.

So, why isn’t figuring out ways to make it easier for kids to stay home with a parent (or grandparent) in the early years the objective of state policy? Back in 2006, speaking to the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce on the issue of universal pre-k, I pointed out that the real reason for this is that the programs weren’t concerned with what’s best for children, but rather what’s best for businesses: getting mom and dad away from their baby and back to work, even if that had a negative effect on childhood development (not to mention taxpayers!). My remarks were met with shock, indignation, and protestations of innocence. How could any feeling human being believe such a thing?

Well, here we are today. Let’s Grow Kids paid for a 3500 word infomercial article in Seven Days (perhaps elsewhere) touting, “Right now, some young parents who want to work are dropping out of the workforce because they can’t find care for their kids. Vermont can’t afford to lose them.” And, “This financial assistance could be described as an investment in the state’s future workforce.”

This “financial assistance” (aka government spending) could also be described as “corporate welfare,” and damaging to our state’s future work force.

Since 2006, Vermont has grown state spending and regulation of pre-k programs significantly, and now Let’s Grow Kids is asking for $800,000,000 a year for a comprehensive birth to five program. What are the results? 4th grade scores are falling and behavioral problems are on the rise.

Back in 2017, then House Education Committee, chairman David Sharpe (D-Bristol) noted that there has also been, along with falling test scores, an increase in number of disruptive students in the classroom. This prompted him to inquire, “I applaud your [Pre-K advocates] efforts,” said Sharpe, “but are we creating these agencies to replace parents because we’ve created a culture where mom and dad get up every day and go do work and aren’t a part of their kids’ lives? Did we create this problem by creating a culture where children are without parents for so much of their life?”

Yes! These programs are not about what’s best for kids, they are not about what’s best for parents. They are, in fact, damaging to both. Government funded pre-k is about what’s best for employers – forcing taxpayers to subsidize their employees’ childcare expenses.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Tarantino March 12, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Hey Rob, I think your got this wrong. Pre-K programs help children and parents. Here in Manchester we voted for a 5 day a week Pre-K program! How ever now with Act 46 that program will be cut to 2-3 days, that all Pre-K children in the Taconic and Green new merged school district ,will be put into a Lottery! Then the higher risk children wil be chosen over other children who might excel! Manchester Pre-K children may not even make it into the 2-3 day program now and if they do they might be bussed as far as 14-18 miles away from the MEMS here in Manchester! How is this equal educational opportunities for all? We the people of Vermont want our kids to start school in pre-k as studies have shown great improvements in Children’s education! So I agree with a lot of others things you have written, but this misses the mark and is just plain wrong! Instead of providing Pre-k to all, 3 new administrators were hired at a cost of $300,000.00! 25 million of our tax dollars are being wasted on administrators of Act 60-68 and and now under the touted as going to save money on education ,instead it is another loss of local control and the destruction of local schools in small communities all across Vermont!


Rob March 12, 2019 at 4:13 pm

Thanks for the comments, Andrew. I’m not surprised that government involvement in Pre-K has led to a mess of access and affordability in Manchester (and elsewhere), as you describe. There was a perfectly functioning market-based pre-k environment, small businesses run mostly by women, that the state has been actively driving out of business for a decade in order to replace them with the mess of a system you describe above — at an ultimate cost of over $800,000,000 a year statewide if they get their way. Add that to your property tax bill!

Here’s where you have been misled and misinformed: “studies have shown great improvements in Children’s education!” No, they have not. In fact, where large scale programs populated with mainstream children are concerned, these programs have shown no benefit after the third grade (a phenomenon called “fade-out), or in some cases they actually appear to HARM children both emotionally and academically.

Look at Vermont. Since we started ramping up public pre-k programs in 2007, the more kids matriculating through the programs and through to the 4th grade, the lower our 4th grade test scores have trended. Coincidence or correlation? We need more study, but pre-k certainly has not improved student performance as promised.

Small scale, comprehensive Pre-K programs have been shown to have some benefits for children in extreme situations. The High Scope Perry Pre-K Project, which most advocates point to as “evidence” that these programs work, dealt with only inner city African American children from broken families, living in severe poverty, who had IQs under 78. But this program and the demographics for kids in it are very different from the program we see in Vermont.


Andrew Tarantino March 12, 2019 at 5:20 pm

Hey Rob, Do you have any pre-K children in your family? I do, my grandson is ready for pre-K in September, and his Mom is one of the Pre-K teachers, in Manchester!
So, there is no corporate welfare, happening in Manchester, VT. There is however a great need and a huge difference for Children to attend a school, and not just have day care! So I still disagree, with your attack on a program that should be Pre-K for all and not just a select few. Perhaps you need to talk to some Pre-k teachers and some parents of Pre-k children to get a much clearer understanding of the need. The biggest difference is the implementation and if the state of VT spends our tax dollars on administrators like they do on Act 60/68 and not act 46 ! Have a great Vermont day and be safe. Cheers, Andrew


Robert March 13, 2019 at 1:22 am

Sure you support pre-k. Because you have a horse in the race and are seeing it through the lens that benefits you and yours. You offer no facts at all to support your position, and then suggest that Mr. Roper visit with the people who benefit directly from this ridiculous government overreach so “he” can be educated on the matter. Impossible to take such nonsense seriously.


Hank Buermann March 15, 2019 at 9:38 pm

Mr. Roper first pointed out the facts that Pre-k has not only failed to deliver the results it was supposed to, but initial analysis suggests that it ultimately delivers no demonstrable benefit post 4th grade and might, in fact, be instilling behavioral issues in our youth, all at a price projected to be in the vicinity of 800,000,000.
Your response didn’t address a single substantive issue. Rather, you fell back on the claim that current state direction has created a construct that was unfair in that educational opportunity was not equal to all potential participants.
Mr. Roper patiently took the time to explain this to you and you, again, failed to grasp the point but went off on a tangent unrelated to the logical fact pattern.
At the risk of just wasting ink, it matters little whether or not one has a personal stake, The program has failed to deliver on its’ stated goals and seemingly has failed to deliver on its’ likely underlying greater purpose as well. All of this at an enormous and unsustainable cost while potentially damaging our youth. So where is the merit?


Stephen Brent Hutchins March 13, 2019 at 9:31 am

Children spending 20 hours per week or more exhibit all the signs of abandoned children; traumatized.


Deanne March 16, 2019 at 2:30 am

Good article, Rob. I personally think most children would be better off never going to government, tax-funded schools at all. The waste of time and money is beyond comprehension. Almost every time I see a school bus, I can’t help but groan inside for the waste of money that I am forced to help fund, and the poor kids spending hours of their lives on those buses. They would be better off going for a walk in the woods or just about anything else in nature. The schools have taken over the lives, schedules, and finances of the country and their promoters plead “it’s for the children” in an attempt to get more and more control for more years before first grade. And people fall for it.


Thaddeus Cline March 18, 2019 at 9:06 pm

I fail to see why you can’t seem to understand that most modern families have to put there children in child care so the parents can work . Do you really live in that much of a bobble that you don’t know how most family’s live now?
The resherch is in Child care helps children develop better threw interactions with other children and adults .
It’s well past time to make child care affordable and easy for any parent to get .


Rob March 19, 2019 at 12:06 pm

Yes, you have made my point here, Thaddeus. These Pre-K programs are for the parents and employers, they are not what’s best for the child. No, the research does not say institutionalized child care is what’s best for kids. Overwhelmingly the research shows the best situation for a child is to be home with a parent. For mainstream kids, participation in large scale government run childcare programs shows no benefit, or even harm by the 4th grade. Maybe if we want to have a happier, healthier, more stable future our focus should be on what’s truly best for children. You say modern families have to put kids in daycare, but they can’t do that without some sort of subsidy. Parent’s can’t afford to stay home either. Neither scenario is realistic. If that’s the case, maybe we should be subsidizing the latter instead of the former. For the kids.


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