Our friends at The American Interest published a piece today questioning the benefits of Universal Pre-K services funded by the government, using a similar program from the UK as a case study. Their primary concern- and a valid one- is whether or not the service is capable of providing what its supporters claim it does.
According to the article, it does not-
“Overall, the policy made daycare more affordable for some families, but had very little effect on students’ educational achievement in the long-run.”
Here we run into one of the big dilemmas of contemporary late-stage “Blue Model” politics. It’s pretty clear and well-accepted that more government services are a good thing that can expand opportunity for more people, but that every method we know about to fund and administer them is increasingly costly and inefficient. And the services themselves, increasingly, are not that great. This is true of healthcare coverage, infrastructure, public education, and just about every other policy area where it’s been long-established that the government ought to play a provisory role.
Mainstream Republicans tend to prefer to cut-cut-cut, offering a slightly smaller and more chronically underfunded version of the blue state. Most Democrats, meanwhile, simply ask for more funds without offering up much of an agenda for improving the services.
There’s another way. Instead of merely starving the beast or feeding it, we ought to use the power of technology- IT or otherwise- to improve delivery, cost, and general quality of every public service our various levels of government provide. At a federal level, the policy of providing grants to states might be leveraged- monetary “relief for reform” of insolvent and inefficient institutions. At the level of the actual providers of those services, policymaking should be decentralized to encourage new innovations in provision of services, so people on the ground can experiment with different ways to do things.
Should the federal government fund universal Pre-K? Of course! Just as it should fund universal community college and, perhaps one day in the future, universal college education.
But before the service can be funded, the current model must be drastically reformed in ways that decrease costs, increase quality and access, and modernize these cumbersome and bloated systems into jewels worthy of 21st Century governance. If we can upgrade Universal Pre-K into something more effective at helping our children develop, for a fraction of the price it would cost as a service nowadays… well, the party that figures out how to tackle that challenge will reform the whole government of the United States.