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Education Reporter

Pushing Universal Preschool:
Officials Hop on Bandwagon

Universal preschool could become mandatory for all American children.
SACRAMENTO, CA - State superintendent of public instruction, Delaine Eastin, has called for "universal preschool" (San Francisco Chronicle, May 17). The article urged California legislators to support S.B. 277, sponsored by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), which calls for "a commission to develop a master plan for universal preschool."

Eastin admits that such an ambitious program would be costly, but insists that the return on investment would be high, because "studies show that children from low-income families who attended high-quality preschool programs as 4-year-olds had fewer criminal arrests and higher success at landing stable jobs than those who did not."

Sen. Ortiz's legislation is based on recommendations released by Eastin's Universal Preschool Task Force last year. The 53-member group purportedly studied the feasibility of universal preschool in California.

Eastin stresses that her preschool concept is "voluntary," and that "parents would decide whether or not to place their children in preschool." She adds however, that "universal preschool is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity for our children and our society."

Vice President Al Gore has also declared his intention that all American children should attend universal preschool. According to the CATO Institute, Gore's declaration "means that the public school system would be expanded downward to include all three- and four-year-olds in every family, in every community."

Universal Preschool and HFA

While Georgia, New Jersey and New York already have state-funded universal preschool programs, some legislators and many parents worry that these initiatives will not only become mandatory, but will dovetail with Healthy Families America (HFA) programs that are being promoted nationwide by Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA). Currently operating in 40 states, HFA programs place "home visitors" into the homes of first-time parents (see Education Reporter, March 1999) to instruct them in parenting skills for the stated purpose of preventing child abuse. These programs target "at risk" families - those with single parents, low incomes, drug or alcohol abuse, or a host of other "risk factors" - but indicate an intention to include all families.

The Physician's Resource Council (the medical division of the Alabama Family Alliance) conducted an in-depth, year-long study of HFA, and has released a 70-page report on its findings entitled The Parent Trainers: A Nationwide Study of Home Visitation Programs. The report concludes that "the concept of universal home visitation for new parents is a costly, one-size-fits-all solution to the complex problem of child abuse - one shown to be a failure in scientific studies."

Preschool Programs Offer No Benefit

With the documented failure of Head Start (see Education Reporter, May 1999), it is difficult to imagine that universal preschool will be of benefit to the nation's children. In its Policy Analysis entitled "Universal Preschool is No Golden Ticket," the CATO Institute notes: "For nearly 40 years, local, state, and federal governments and diverse private sources have funded early intervention programs for low-income children, and benefits to the children have been few and fleeting. There is also evidence that middle-class children gain little, if anything, from preschool."

Tucker's 'Seamless Web'

HFA programs and the push for universal preschool raise the specter of Marc Tucker's "seamless web," which envisions drawing all Americans into the government system "from cradle to grave," which is "the same [system] for everyone." HFA and universal preschool appear to cover the "cradle" portion of Tucker's "vision." (Tucker's famous 18-page "Dear Hillary" letter is available here)

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