Universal Preschool: A story of three
July 31, 2005
preschool is being aggressively pushed as a national political agenda,
but the promotion usually begins as something else. Advocates begin by
targeting "at risk" kids, such as the homeless, the immigrants,
those from broken homes with parents on drugs or in prison, and so on.
Most taxpayers earnestly desire to help genuinely "at risk"
children, but "at risk" isn't clearly defined.
concept of "at risk" is next defined so broadly as to be
meaningless. "Studies" are cited to prove that over half of the
children entering kindergarten are "at risk" for failure. In
study the advocates of universal preschool cited was deliberately
misrepresented, but that didn't stop them from using it aggressively in
radio, TV, and newspaper advertising to push their political agenda --
$15 million for a private, unaccountable foundation to set up an early
childhood system statewide.
the problem of "at risk" children is "solved by
establishing a system for all children. In legislative committee
hearings, programs targeted to "at risk" groups are quietly
expanded to include universal screening, universal assessments,
establishing birth to five curriculum standards with a radical worldview,
universal assessments, aggressive home visiting and parenting classes for
all, and hefty grant money to pull in the stragglers and hold the system
is raging in every state. Wealthy special interest foundations and
corporations fund multiple lobby groups and political committees. In
California, a 2006 ballot initiative for "Preschool for All" is
now running TV ad campaigns telling parents that without the right
preschool, their children are doomed to failure.
are excerpts from three articles on three states in this year's
legislative sessions. The full articles may be accessed at the links
New CA Bill Stop Homeschooling?
Nanny State Tidal Wave Held Back
Will New CA Bill Stop Homeschooling?
By Tricia S. Vaughan
July 30, 2005
...I was already feeling as though I wasn't good
enough to teach my own child. And this feeling, strange as it would seem
to our pre-twentieth-century ancestors, is exactly what the
Preschool-for-All Act advocates desire. In my current home state of
California, a ballot initiative due for June 2006 will ask voters about
government funding so that all children can attend preschool, but the
groundwork for the initiatives success has already been lain. Recent
television campaigns have told my mommy friends and me that if we don't
start our children in the right preschool, our little darlings may have
trouble getting into the right college. And Preschool for All, as CA
Assembly Bill 172 is called, is being promoted by none other than Rob
Reiner. How do these Hollywood sitcom stars help us make educational
decisions? Or more to the point, why do they sell us on such silly ideas?
Although the Preschool-for-All people tell us that this initiative
is for voluntary preschool, thats just a handy way to sell us on the
concept. We feel better as parents if we think were voluntarily giving
our children an edge via preschool, even if this supposedly free
preschool at a projected cost of $2 billion gives no guarantee that our
children will succeed. But how long will this program be voluntary?
Presently, some people are working to lower the compulsory school age so
that children under six must attend school. Its only a matter of time
after the passage of the Preschool-for-All Act until we are forced to
send our three-year-olds to school...
Diane Flynn Keith, who produces the well-written and insightful
a Web site that promotes the idea that a young childs place is in the
home, wonders about the standards that Mr. Reiners seemingly altruistic
plan would entail.
Minnesota Nanny State Tidal Wave Held Back
Success for Families Opposing a comprehensive new system for all
children, birth - 5
July 21, 2005
held back the tidal wave of a new and expansive pre-school system that
would have put in place the building blocks for a
State for all children birth - 5 . This planned system of
curriculum standards, and screening and assessments of all children,
based on those curriculum standards, was not adopted in the 2005 MN
chief proponent of Minnesota's Nanny State,
Ready4K, states it this way on
a tremendous success, in spite of some real disappointments. Taxpayers
are up against large
corporate business interests,
social planners who have massive funding at their disposal and
complete, easy media access. The success in holding back the tide in
2005 is truly inspiring, and it is due to the persistent involvement of
EdWatch and the many parents and constituents who made their views known
- " Small baby steps were taken by the Legislature and
Governor, but bold investments in our young children, and our future,
were left for another day."
A Big Disappointment:
Early Learning Foundation (MELF)
biggest disappointment in the 2005 legislative session is the passage of
the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF), an unaccountable
public-private partnership set up outside state government that will
oversee a state grant program to influence and mold the childcare
programs in Minnesota. While MELF is defined as helping low income
families, also included is an undefined, vague category of "other
challenged families." MELF's purposes also include expanding
public and nonpublic childcare "capacity" and
teaching all parents what to teach their children. The door is now open
for special interest groups to use state money to set up a state
childcare "system" for all, with a politicized agenda to train
unsuspecting parents, direct the curriculum of public and private
childcare centers, and expand
workers visiting homes.
legislators kept out explicit language adopting curriculum standards,
assessments, and a childcare quality rating system based on those
standards as part of MELF's purposes. The special interest group
Ready4K has already developed a Quality Rating System, however, which
they seem to have expected to be adopted into statute in this session.
The Ready4K Quality Rating System is based in part on childcare centers
implementing the worldview curriculum standards in order to be rated
without adopting the standards, assessments and the quality rating system
within MELF, however, the very existence of MELF is major trouble for
parents and families in Minnesota. Nothing in the law prohibits
the MELF grant program from being used by bureaucrats to promote the
Quality Rating System. In fact, taxpayer funded early childhood funds
(ECFE) are currently being used in Anoka, Ramsey and Washington Counties
to train unsuspecting private childcare providers in the radical
state curriculum standards, telling providers that it will help them
become "quality rated" by Ready4K, and thereby gain them access
to state grant money. Once again, taxpayer money is being used to guide
families and private and public childcare centers into teaching content
such as gender identity, social activism, environmentalism, group
identity and diversity training.to our youngest
What else was stopped
these seven items is an extraordinarily important accomplishment.
tEducation type curriculum standards for 3 and 4 year olds
were not adopted into law. This de facto curriculum consists of
vague, subjective, non-academic, and psycho-socially inappropriate
indicators. It usurps parental authority for teaching values and beliefs
to children and it would have been aggressively promoted to all parents
and all childcare providers at taxpayer expense.
Based Education type curriculum standards for children, birth through age
were not adopted into law. We can expect this de facto
curriculum, still in development by the Department of Human Services, to
be similar to those for 3 and 4 year olds. They would have been
distributed to all parents of infants and toddlers and to childcare
- 3.) A requirement that child care providers receiving any state
money would be required to base their programs and care guidelines on the
state-mandated curriculum standards was not adopted into law.
- 4.) Mandatory, universal developmental screening of all Minnesota
children at least once by the age of three was not adopted into
law. This would have extended developmental screening to all
children, whether or not they would have attended public schools.
- 5.) Aggressive state promotion of screening 3 and 4 year olds,
coordinating various groups to work together, such as childcare programs,
community organizations, public and private health care organizations,
and individual health car providers was not adopted into law.
- 6.) A system of universal preschool assessments that mirror No
Child Left Behind's (NCLB) most controversial mandate, the Adequate
Yearly Progress (AYP) was not adopted into law. The DFL Senate
plan would have set goals for the number of preschoolers "reaching
proficiency on all measures of the assessment," and the measure of
proficiency would have been the Profile-like curriculum standards. Each
year, the goal would have increased: 6,000 children meeting proficiency
in 2006; 18.000 in 2007; 30,000 in 2008; 45,000 in 2009; and 60,000 in
2010, finally getting to 100%. The Department would have reported on
progress toward these goals on a school by school basis. This AYP is
straight out of NCLB.
- 7.) A Quality Rating System (QRS) for both public and private
childcare centers (misrepresented as being "voluntary")
was not adopted as part of the education bill. Republican Sen. Bob
Kierlin carried the QRS proposal in the Senate, and it was included in
the omnibus Health and Human Services bill. It appears at this time that
the QRS was not adopted in the final Health and Human Services
bill, either. However, we are awaiting final confirmation of this
information. The QRS would have required integrating the worldview
curriculum standards into childcare programs and activities in order to
be "qualified," and it would have tied government grant
eligibility to any childcare center based on its "quality"
What else was gained
What else was not stopped
- 1.) Parents may now use their own physician or health care provider,
rather than the school district, to have their child developmentally
screened before entering a public kindergarten program, and school
districts must inform parents of that option.
- 2.) Assessments of a child before and after participating in school
readiness programs will be limited to "cognitive" skills,
rather than including a child's values, attitudes, and beliefs.
- 1.) When children are initially screened, they will now be assigned a
child ID number for data tracking by the state and federal governments.
This ID number will collect and store personal information and testing
and screening information that will follow them throughout their lives.
- 2.) A "coordination program" will now be implemented to use
existing state programs, resources, and policies in the Departments of
education, human services, and health to cooperatively push state early
childhood initiatives. That means that existing programs, such as health,
nutrition, welfare, home visiting, public and private health care, foster
care, and shelters, will promote the state early childhood programs. That
coordination will be reviewed by the legislature next year.
UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL IN VERMONT
Thursday, July 28, 2005
by John McClaughry
(Editor's Note This
commentary appeared in the Barre Sunday Times Argus/Rutland Herald on
July 3. The Ethan Allen Institute has been writing about early education
issues for several years and was instrumental in bringing this topic to
the public's attention in Vermont.)
With the signature of Gov. James Douglas on the FY 2006
appropriations bill, Vermont's tax-supported public school system grew by
two more grades. Few legislators clearly understood that this was
happening. It was accomplished completely below the radar of public and
legislative debate, with almost zero attention from the news media. When
most school districts take advantage of the new law, the cost to
taxpayers will be from $40-70 million a year, most of it raised from the
"At-risk" Children the Original Early Ed Targets
Since 1987 a few school districts have operated homemade preschool
programs. In addition, a program called Essential Early Education, to
help handicapped children who will later enter special education
programs, has been in existence for many years. It is currently budgeted
for $4.5 million a year, paid for from the state's general fund.
Act 60, the court-ordered education finance act of 1997, provided money
from the new education fund to school districts to aid
"at-risk" children (from low-income families or with limited
English proficiency) through preschool or early-grade mentoring programs.
Act 60 did not, however, authorize universal preschool programs for all
The Move to Fund Pre-School for All
In late 2002
then-commissioner Ray McNulty determined to lead Vermont into the new era
of universal preschools. McNulty's initiative fell on eager ears within
the educational establishment. The people running Vermont's schools are
very much aware that the state's public school attendance is going down,
while school spending is going sharply up. This can be difficult to
explain to heavily burdened property taxpayers, who pay two-thirds the
cost of the school system.
An obvious solution is to bring more pupils into the system. Three- and
four-year-olds come cheap. They can be "educated" (the
distinction between early education and day care remains controversial)
at half the cost of serving elementary school kids. By adding two more
grades below kindergarten, the schools can add new pupils that will
increase the nation's lowest pupil-teacher ratio and actually bring down
The teachers' union, of course, will be delighted to enroll hundreds of
new pre-K teachers and add them to its political action machine.
Additional support comes from some large businesses eager to have
taxpayer-financed pre-K to relieve day care pressures and costs for many
of their employees, and remove the issue from employee benefits and
In 2003 the Senate Education Committee took up Commissioner McNulty's
initiative ...On April 2, 2003, after Senators beat
down an effort on the floor to inject a small amount of parental choice
into the program, the Senate passed S. 166 on a 28-0 vote.
In the House, however, S. 166 faced tougher sledding. Some
representatives raised concerns about putting private day care centers
out of business or driving up their costs to qualify them for
"collaboration" with public schools. Others were alarmed that
the new public school pre-K programs would effectively put church-based
preschools out of business. Eventually S. 166 died in the House Education
For at least two years the department had been actively encouraging
districts to create programs that went far beyond the long-established
assistance for at-risk children. Acting only on the authority of its own
rule, the department had approved education fund reimbursement for those
programs. Despite the assurances from department lawyers, there is good
reason to believe that school districts with such universal preschool
programs are on thin legal ice, and that the department is in a
politically awkward position.
School districts are draining $15 million a year from the education fund
to pay for universal preschooling. But the education laws nowhere
authorize the use of education fund spending for this purpose. In fact,
the law reads "Upon withdrawal of funds from the education fund for
any purpose other than those authorized by this section (K-12
programs)" the state property tax is repealed.
In January, Commissioner Cate sought the approval of the State Board of
Education to adopt an amended preschool rule. The proposed rule spelled
out conditions for collaboration with independent providers, and
reaffirmed the inclusion of preschoolers in the pupil count to qualify
for education fund spending.
Realizing the far-reaching nature of the proposed program expansion and
its contested legality, the board balked. Cate withdrew the proposed
rule. Sen. Jim Condos, D-Chittenden, then reintroduced S.166 (newly
numbered S.132) to get the Legislature to solve the
problem...On April 13 Vermonters for Better Education
and the Ethan Allen Institute briefed Gov. Douglas and Administration
Secretary Charlie Smith to explain the effects of S.132. They argued
that ...S.132 could drive hundreds of independent
preschool providers out of business by attracting most of their clients
into "free" public programs. Gov. Douglas and Secretary Smith
clearly understood the issue, but made no commitments.
By mid-May it was obvious that Sen. Collins' was not going to be able to
push S.132 through the Senate, let alone the House, in 2005.
...So on May 20, Sen. Collins took the key provision
of S.132 -- the inclusion of preschoolers in the Act 60 pupil count
formula -- to the Appropriations Committee. Describing the provision as a
technical amendment to ratify current practice, he persuaded the
committee to add it to the Senate version of the FY 2006 appropriations
bill. His appeal met with no resistance from the committee and,
apparently, no objection from the Douglas administration.
On May 25 the Senate passed the bill and sent it off to conference with
the House...Now the Senate was asking the House
appropriations conferees to accept a brand new provision creating an
open-ended, universal, education fund-financed preschool program, not
just for at-risk children, but for all children. Despite the fact that
the House had never considered the issue, the House conferees agreed to
the Senate provision...The governor signed the
appropriations bill into law on June 21...During this
month of intense Statehouse activity on this issue, the Vermont news
media took almost no notice of it..usually aggressive
reporters of legislative doings did not find the matter worthy of
Vermont has now become the sixth state to enact universal preschool
Unlike all of the other states, Vermont acted without floor debate in
either chamber of its legislature or voter approval through initiative.
This sweeping measure, with its "potentially immense" costs to
taxpayers, was quietly slipped through by Sen. Collins and his
confederates, Senate Appropriations Chair Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille and
House Appropriations chair Martha Heath, D-Underhill, (who knew what the
game was, but raised no objection.)
Preschool programs, now draining $15 million from the education fund,
will rapidly increase as more and more school districts get in on the
action, and as more and more parents opt to enroll their children. The
private day care providers now face the choice of becoming indentured
servants to the public schools, at best, or driven out of business as
their customers migrate to the "free" taxpayer financed
There has long been strong support for educational programs to help close
the achievement gap for disadvantaged children. With the advent of
universal preschools, the funding that might have closed that gap will
now be distributed among all children, most of whom will get few if any
measurable benefits beyond day care services...
With zero legislative debate, Vermont school districts now have
been given the green light to create and expand universal preschools. As
these proliferate, they will cause the perpetual annual expenditure of
millions of taxpayer dollars, threaten the very existence of hundreds of
small (and usually woman-owned) businesses, offer nothing to close the
achievement gap affecting at-risk children, and quite possibly do nothing
of any value for anyone other than the new teachers, aides and
bureaucrats that will be called into being to absorb its spending.
John McClaughry, a former vice chair of the Senate Education
Committee, is president of the Ethan Allen Institute
105 Peavey Road, Suite 116
Chaska, MN 55318
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