NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 13, 2005

Many supporters of preschool subsidies argue that by investing in preschool the government will save money down the road in the form of higher graduation rates and lower juvenile crime. However, according to Reason Foundation analysts Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell, a program in Quebec that subsidized preschool did not yield positive results.

The first problem with Quebec's preschool program is that costs ballooned:

  • The final price tag for Quebec's day care program is 33 times what was originally projected eight years ago -- it was supposed to cost $230 million over five years, but now gobbles $1.7 billion every year.
  • Much of the increased spending has gone to labor costs -- unions negotiated a 40 percent pay raise over five years.
  • As a result, the cost of care has doubled since the program began, with the annual per-infant cost now exceeding $15,000.

Perhaps more worryingly, the subsidies are not reaching their intended targets:

  • Many low-income parents have been crowded out by middle- and upper-income parents who are savvier at negotiating the system.
  • According to research by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, half of Quebec's day care spaces are taken by families in the top 30 percent income bracket.

The most damaging charge is that preschool education does not create long-lasting benefits. A study comparing 4- to 5- year-olds in Quebec with kids elsewhere in Canada found that the Quebec kids have no better scores on the Peabody vocabulary test -- the most widely used indicator of school readiness.

Source: Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell, "Universal preschool is inviting universal disaster," San Francisco Chronicle, December 4, 2005.

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