Barack Obama says he believes in universal preschool and if he’s elected president he’ll pump “billions of dollars into early childhood education.” Universal preschool is now second only to universal health care on the liberal policy wish list. Democratic governors across the country — including in Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia — have made a major push to fund universal preschool in their states.
But is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them? Not according to available evidence.
“Advocates and supporters of universal preschool often use existing research for purely political purposes,” says James Heckman, a University of Chicago Noble laureate in economics whose work Mr. Obama and preschool activists routinely cite. “But the solid evidence for the effectiveness of early interventions is limited to those conducted on disadvantaged populations.”
Mr. Obama asserted in the Las Vegas debate on Jan. 15 that every dollar spent on preschool will produce a 10-fold return by improving academic performance, which will supposedly lower juvenile delinquency and welfare use — and raise wages and tax contributions. Such claims are wildly exaggerated at best.