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Reason Foundation

Universal Preschool is Bad for Kids

Lisa Snell
November 16, 2004, 1:58pm

An article on Head Start preschool centers in Northern California offers further evidence that giving the government a monopoly to run "universal" preschool could be a dangerous idea. State regulators have recommended revoking the licenses of two Contra Costa County Head Start centers amid repeated allegations that children were slapped or physically restrained and also left unsupervised. The recommendation, made in September by the state Community Care Licensing agency, follows repeated efforts by regulators and county officials during the past two years to address problems at the Brookside Center in Richmond and the Fairgrounds Center in Antioch, officials said Tuesday. Unlike most other nonprofit and private preschool programs, Head Start has a built in monopoly on serving low-income four-year-olds. As this example demonstrates, Head Start continues to receive funding for low-income students even after repeated violations of state preschool regulations. The parents of children in Head Start have little incentive to find a better performing child-care provider because Head Start funds will not follow a child unless the child enrolls in a Head Start program. State subsidized preschool, that follows the child from one school to another, represents a much more competitive structure for funding preschool and maintains competition between the private and nonprofit sectors. It also gives low-income parents a right to exit poor-performing or dangerous preschools. Those who wish for universal preschool, controlled by government-run schools, should look closely at the performance of the federal Head Start preschool program for a glimpse of a future with universal preschool.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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