Our View: The preschool fairy tale

Posted: November 13, 2013

During his tenure a half-dozen years ago, former Gov. (and current U.S. Sen.) Tim Kaine pushed hard for a universal preschool, or pre-K, program for Virginia youngsters. He did not get it. Philosophical resistance ran high to the notion, but it was the cratering economy, as much as anything perhaps, that shelved the proposal.

Come January, it seems, it will be dusted off anew. Gov-elect Terry McAuliffe spoke warmly of the idea during the gubernatorial campaign — though, to be honest, it registers, to us at least, as just one of those programs Mr. McAuliffe prattled on about, but offered no earthly explanation of how he, or the General Assembly, might pay for it.

Even if state and nation boasted more money than Croesus, there’s nothing to suggest that any such program would be worth the expenditure. Oh yes, liberals tout its worth endlessly and, in fact, a recent front-page spread by the New York Times further plugged its merit, but don’t let such commendations fool you: Pre-K is no summum bonum, no be-all and end-all. In fact, as Kay Hymowitz, the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, clearly noted in a recent article for Time magazine, it’s simply no replacement for stable families.

As Ms. Hymowitz says, the state cannot — and cannot be expected to — compensate for chaotic homeplaces.

In other words, it’s strong parental influence and oversight, and not a formal preschool education experience, that best prepares youngsters for school and better ensures their success once they get there. Try as the state might, Ms. Hymowitz says, it cannot overcome the transient nature of some homes — that is, parents and siblings coming and going, adults preoccupied with their own problems, and kids languishing in the throes of unstable relationships.

The best pre-K, by and large, is a solid, intact family. Laudatory as the goal may be, belief in the efficacy of state-run preschool problems is little more than throwing good money after bad . . . on what amounts to a fairy tale.