Biden’s claims about universal preschool education are untrue

During President Biden’s State of the Union address this Tuesday, he called for expanded access to preschool education for American 3- and 4-year-old children. In doing so, he made a startling claim about the effectiveness of preschool programs, stating that “children who attend preschool are nearly 50 percent more likely to graduate from high school and earn a two- or four-year degree, regardless of their background.”

However, such dramatic evidence in favor of preschool education — particularly the public “universal preschool” programs that Biden has consistently championed — is unclear. This is especially true when public preschool is credited with positive outcomes—such as college attendance—that occur more than a decade later.

Although the details vary, many US states and cities allow a certain percentage of parents to enroll their children in one or two years of publicly funded preschool. These programs have flourished over the past two decades, and all but four states have some public preschool programs. Universal pre-k has recently become a favorite policy proposal for Democratic candidates.

“We want to have the best-educated workforce. And that’s why universal pre-K is going to mean so much,” Biden said during a speech last January, “You know, it also exponentially increases the odds that that child, regardless of her background—or his or her origin—go through 12 years of school and then continue—almost half go to a two- or four-year college.”

But the evidence in favor of publicly funded preschool programs is unclear.

“I haven’t seen a single study that comes close to saying that kids who attend preschool are nearly 50 percent more likely to graduate from high school and earn a 2- or 4-year degree,” said Colleen Hroncich, a policy analyst at the Institute’s Center for Educational Freedoms. Cato Reason. While some studies have found increases in high school graduation and college attendance rates, Hroncich notes that “these studies generally have to make a lot of assumptions along the way to connect intake at age 4 to outcomes 20 years later.”

“There could be factors that lead parents to enroll their children in preschool that later play a role in college enrollment,” Hroncich added. “There are also studies that show no long-term effects of preschool. So while many people seem to see universal preschool as almost a panacea that will cure what ails our education system, the evidence just isn’t there.”

Whether preschool improves educational outcomes later in life is especially important given the $200 billion price tag attached to Biden’s proposal. Parents with alternative preferences for their children would be taxed to pay for expanding public preschool, as would people without children.

“Parents have repeatedly shown that they have very different preferences when it comes to preschool education, with many preferring home-based or religious programs and part-time options. Education decisions are best left to states, local communities, and—especially—parents.” , notes Hroncich. “As the federal government has gotten more involved in education, we’ve spent a lot more money, but we’ve seen no improvement. There’s no reason to expect a different outcome in preschool.”

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