Bad Research Cited in Bid for More Spending in Illinois

The American welfare state is big enough to be a problem for the American economy. But obviously, it is not big enough for American statists. They see three pieces missing: single-payer health care (which is coming if Obama gets another term), general income security (which is a big reason for Europe’s perpetual problems) and universal child care and pre-school.

Thankfully, we can still stop these three monumental waste-taxpayers-money programs, but it is not going to be easy. The latest effort to expand government-provided preschool comes from a group of law enforcement professionals in Illinois, who seem to think that tax-paid preschooling is going to make their lives easier. The Chicago Sun-Times reports:

At a time when sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors are complaining that budget cuts to their offices put public safety at risk, a group of law enforcement officials are calling on the state to increase funding. For preschools. Cook County’s sheriff, DuPage County’s state’s attorney and three police chiefs say that if Illinois doesn’t beef up spending for preschools, the state will need far more money to fight and prosecute crime for years to come. “Either spend the money up front or we are going to spend it later on incarceration, building prisons,” said Rock Island Police Chief Scott Harris. He and others pointed to a study that concluded that the $55 million the state saved by cutting Illinois-funded preschool programs — and knocking more than 17,000 children out of preschool — will ultimately cost taxpayers $200 million in increased criminal, social service and educational costs. To support the findings by a nonprofit, anti-crime organization called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, they noted a long-term study that found that by the age of 27, at-risk kids who did not attend Perry Preschool in Michigan were five times more likely to be arrested.

A full 27 kids. Twenty-seven. Now that’s what I call statistical significance.  And they are all in one state.

I am sure that the law enforcement professionals who make this argument are good at what they do, and I am sure that they do their very best to keep their communities safe. But if they think that a study of 27 kids in one community in America is reason enough to ask Illinois taxpayers to cough up even more money than they already are, then I have a bridge to sell them in Brooklyn. Apparently they are willing to buy into anything that looks bright and shiny.

The obvious first question is: what individual reasons were there why these kids did not attend preschool? Were there drug problems at home? Was any one of them a child of a serial mom who could barely tell if there was a father involved in the conception process?

Also: what crimes were they arrested for – possession of pot or capital murder? If someone comes from a drug-infested home they are more likely to use drugs than otherwise, which puts them at higher risk of getting arrested for drug possession.

In late 2010 Illinois taxpayers were given the fine Christmas present of the largest state income tax increase in recent American history. This tax hike immediately stalled the economic recovery in Illinois and the state is put at a heavy disadvantage when it comes to retaining productive citizens and businesses. To further raise taxes at this point is not only irresponsible, but outright reckless.

From a law enforcement perspective, it might be a good idea to ask what the relation is between, on the one hand, economic deprivation and unemployment and, on the other hand, the likelihood that people end up in criminal activity. What is clear, though, is that anyone who believes that tax-paid preschool is a magic want for a better society should take a serious look at the work on this issue published by Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute. Here is an example from 2005:

To help determine the efficacy of early education programs, we examine the results of programs considered to be early education models, including Perry Preschool, Abecedarian, and Head Start, and Arizona-based programs including Reading First and kindergarten in the Alhambra and Chino districts. We find the widespread adoption of preschool and full-day kindergarten is unlikely to improve student achievement. Head Start co-founder Ed Zigler has implored policymakers not to overestimate the ability of preschool: “This is not the first time universal preschool education has been proposed…Then, as now, the arguments in favor of preschool education were that it would reduce school failure, lower drop-out rates, increase test scores, and produce a generation of more competent high school graduates…Preschool education will achieve none of these results.” Likewise, the National Center for Education Statistics finds no lasting reading, math, or science achievement differences between children who attend half-day and full-day kindergarten.

In 1999 Olsen noted that the much-touted, federally sponsored Head Start program was a complete failure:

The nation’s largest federal preschool program has served more than 15 million children since 1965. But according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which assembled the most comprehensive synthesis of Head Start impact studies to date, Head Start has failed to have a lasting impact on child development. These studies show that by the time children enter second grade, any short-term cognitive, social and emotional gains experienced by Head Start children have completely vanished. Head Start children’s achievement test scores, IQ scores, achievement motivation scores, self-esteem and social behavior scores are no better than those of their demographically comparable non-Head Start peers. A more recent study by the General Accounting Office confirmed the HHS finding. There is no evidence that Head Start provides lasting benefits.

If people want to spend their own money on preschooling oher people’s kids, then by all means, let them do it. But don’t take people’s money by force and spend it on something that, at best, makes no discernible difference in people’s lives. People commit crimes because they lack a sense of personal responsibility, but it is also important to remember that we have laws that turn people into criminals without there being a victim involved. If the kids in the 27-person “study” mentioned earlier were arrested for having pot in their cars, and if all they do is smoke it, then it is valid to ask to what degree their lives are better or worse than the lives of those who do not get arrested for possessing a legal drug, namely alcohol.

Law enforcement officers are good at rushing to crime scences, and we thank them for that. But when they rush to conclusions they may do more harm than good to our communities. The last thing Illinois needs today is higher taxes.

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