Preschool Vouchers a Bad Idea

Preschool Vouchers a Bad Idea
January 22, 2014

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)


School Choice Weekly #22

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence called for preschool vouchers in his state of the state address this week, and the Indiana House obligingly passed a bill that would give lower-income families a voucher for their 4-year-olds in five pilot counties. Legislative leaders in the majority-Republican state are probably congratulating themselves for coming up with what looks like a conservative way to expand government entitlements, but they’re making a mistake.

Preschool programs, private or public, have proven for decades to have essentially no effect on students. The justification for them is that poor children do not get the same parenting their middle-income peers do, and thus enter school far behind in language development, which handicaps the children for the rest of their lives. But preschool has no record of fixing this--at least not for the $6,800 a year Indiana’s proposing. Further, this language gap starts at least as early as 18 months old. In other words, preschool at age 4 is far too late.

Further, preschool programs create an incentive to increase the number of unfortunate children who need preschool by subsidizing unmarried parenthood:

Between 1970 and 2010, nonmarital birth rates have almost tripled and marriage rates have declined between 75 and 30 percent (depending on age cohort). Here we have an obvious root to the sudden and shocking problem that so many children cannot give their first and last names or follow two-step directions by kindergarten (two of the easy-peasy “kindergarten readiness” skills apparently thousands of children are failing). From personal observations, as well as the social science, we know that these children are not looking at books because they’re looking at televisions and computers all day while their mothers text furiously; these children are not singing nursery rhymes because their mothers and their live-in boyfriends are busy canoodling, doing drugs, or fighting; and these children are not having conversations with their parents because their parents are almost incapable of using English.

Yet in the preschool debate no one discusses how to reduce the need for preschool by recreating the societal demand that fathers marry the mothers of their children, and that women refuse sex until they’ve guaranteed the children created by that decision have a real chance at a happy life.

… Any discussion of preschool must be held in its context, which means demanding an end for government programs enabling those who bear children out of wedlock and discriminating against those who marry. Conservatives should respond with a holistic approach that reduces the need for government intervention in the future, rather than accepting and thus encouraging parent and community abdication. This means talking about why so many children get to age five having never heard the ABCs.

If conservatives in Indiana and elsewhere want to better society, they should address the root of the preschool problem and uplift families. Try child tax credits and ending government discrimination against marriage. Effective programs for the poor look more like the new-mother training actress Jennifer Garner recently highlighted. And why can’t private charities and local communities handle those?

SOURCES: NWI Politics, The Federalist, and The Shriver Report


  • School Choice Roundup
  • Common Core Watch
  • Education Today

School Choice Roundup

Common Core Watch

  • ALASKA: The state decides to jettison a national Common Core test in favor of one developed by the University of Kansas. Kansas has made the same decision, but the University of Kansas is also supplying test items for the national test both states have supposedly dropped.
  • FLORIDA: The state decides to rename Common Core as the “Florida Standards.” At least five other states have tried doing the same.

Education Today

  • ADVOCACY: A new nonprofit organization styled on has come to the education sphere, targeting for-profit endeavors. Integrity in Education’s first move has been making open records requests for U.S. Department of Education work with several major vendors.

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Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)