Despite numerous academic studies showing negative outcomes for young children who spend extended time in daycare and pre-school programs, five Alaska legislators have introduced a bill to launch universal state-run pre-kindergarten.
If passed, House Bill 36 would launch a voluntary state-run program for Alaskan parents of children as young as four years old.
Currently Alaska provides state education for kindergarten through 12th grade. The move to expand to pre-kindergarten comes from the belief that enrolling younger-aged children in state education programs will “increase student performance while also saving the state money in the long term by producing self reliant, successful adults,” according to a statement by bill sponsor Rep. Scott Kawaskaki of Fairbanks.
His fellow sponsors include: Anchorage Democrats Rep. Les Gara, Rep. Andy Josephson and Rep. Harriet Drummond, along with Juneau Democrat Rep. Sam Kito III and Ketchikan Democrat Rep. Dan Ortiz.
In a statement supporting state-run pre-kindergarten, Rep. Josephson claimed, “Preparing students for real learning when they enter kindergarten is vital, and brings those children who are disadvantaged in some way, up to parity with their peers.”
But critics point to the high cost for taxpayers combined with problematic social and educational outcomes.
On average, state funded pre-kindergarten programs cost roughly $6,400 per child according to the nonpartisan public policy institute, The New America Foundation.
An extensive analysis by U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services in 2010, found that the federal government’s Head Start preschool program has cost taxpayers more than $180 billion since 1965 while largely failing to improve the cognitive, socio-emotional health and parenting outcomes of children who participated in the program.
In response to the federal analysis of Head Start, critics of universal state-run pre-kindergarten note the negative consequences of separating young children from their mothers for extended periods of time.
“Greater amounts of time spent in non-maternal care, and younger age of entry into day care were associated with a greater likelihood of socio-emotional problems and lower cognitive skills,” concluded the Heritage Foundation, a non-partisan conservative think tank. “The cumulative effect of extensive day care was associated with lower academic achievement and poorer emotional health.”
Questions also persist about whether parents really prefer state-run educational care as opposed to policies that empower them to spend more time with their young children.
Studies by the Pew Research Center note that working mothers prefer greater opportunities and options for spending more time with their children. A Pew survey that polled women from 1997 to 2007 found that 80 percent of working mothers said that they would have preferred to stay at home when their children were younger.
“Rather than increasing government involvement in preschool care — at the expense of taxpayers like these working moms — public policy should focus on initiatives to promote marriage, strengthen families, and optimize opportunities for parents to care for their own children,” Heritage Foundation concludes.