Obama’s Preschool-for-All Plan Could Harm Children, Researcher Says

By Penny Starr | September 27, 2013 | 9:47 AM EDT

President Barack Obama visits a pre-kindergarten classroom at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Ga., in February 2013. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration’s plan to send all  4-year-olds to preschool could be harmful to young children, a pro-family advocate told a conservative gathering in Washington on Wednesday.

"Mr. Obama's call for 'preschool for all' rests on disputed research and dubious claims of long-term financial savings,” Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, told CNSNews.com. “It also ignores the real needs of most children."

Carlson was one of two policy analysts who discussed early childhood education at an event on Wednesday hosted by the Family Research Council in Washington.

“The evidence is strong that for children that are not in deprived and dysfunctional homes, pre-school of this sort being promoted may actually be harmful,” he said.

Carlson pointed to research by education and child development experts, who have found that conversation in the home helps boost young children’s cognitive abilities and language development.

Quoting David Elkin, a child psychologist and author of the book “The Hurried Child,” Carlson said that when children are instructed in academic subjects at too early an age, they are put at risk for short-term stress and long-term personality damage.

“Small children do not need professional educators and a regimen of tests,” Carlson quoted from Elkin’s book. “They need their parents and opportunities for wholesome activities.”

Maureen Van Den Berg, a policy analyst with the American Association of Christian Schools, who also spoke at the event, said preschool is a good thing – “as long as the parents can maintain control; as long as private centers are allowed to thrive and as long as government does not have it’s fingers in the daily operation, curriculum standards, assessment status systems of what is going on.”

The Obama administration’s strategic plan for education for fiscal years 2011-14 outlines “comprehensive education reforms from cradle to career, beginning with children at birth,” to prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond.

President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal requests $75 billion over 10 years for his “Preschool for All” initiative.

“Providing a year of free, public preschool education for 4-year-old children is an important investment in our future,” Obama said in his budget message. “It will give all our kids the best start in life, helping them perform better in elementary school and ultimately helping them, and the country, be better prepared for the demands of the global economy.

“Not only that, it could save hard-working families thousands of dollars each year in child care costs,” Obama said.

Currently, parents who can afford it pay tuition to private preschools, and those who can’t afford  it may be eligible for the taxpayer-funded Head Start program.

No “universal” plan or curriculum for preschool has been unveiled by the Obama administration, but according to the American Enterprise Institute, the White House plan “likely” would resemble that one advanced by the liberal Center for American Progress.

According to AEI, the key elements of that plan include the following:

-- The federal government would, on average, match state preschool expenditures up to $10,000 per child per year.

-- This funding would allow families with children ages 3 and 4 to voluntarily send their children to a full-day (nine-hour) public preschool program or choose a shorter-day alternative.

-- Preschool would be free for children from families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

-- Children from families above 200 percent of the poverty line would be charged a sliding tuition co-pay, ranging from about 30 percent of the cost to 95 percent of the cost (for families above 400 percent of the poverty line).

According to the Heritage Foundation, universal pre-school is just another expansion of the federal government’s control over people’s lives.

“A massive federal preschool expansion would further entangle Washington in the education and care of the youngest American children,” Heritage’s Lindsey Burke and Rachel Sheffield wrote in a March 2013 report. ‘Washington already has a poor track record for K–12 education, with federal spending nearly tripling over the past three decades while academic achievement languishes.

“Expanding federal intervention in education to include infants, toddlers, and three-year-olds and four-year-olds will crowd out private preschools, increase costs for taxpayers, and fail to create lasting academic benefits for children,” the report states. “Moreover, this additional federal intervention will largely duplicate existing efforts, as nearly three-quarters of four-year-olds are already enrolled in some form of preschool.”