Thursday, June 01, 2006

Universal Preschool

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported:

From coast to coast, states are pushing to get more 4-year-olds into classrooms...

A few states have made public pre-kindergarten open to all; others are debating the expansion. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) proposed universal access to pre-kindergarten last year during his campaign. But debate over a universal pre-kindergarten proposal on the ballot June 6 in California shows that widespread disagreement continues over whether the education of all 4-year-olds should be a public obligation.

Proposition 82, pushed by actor-director Rob Reiner, would require California to offer three hours of preschool a day to all 4-year-olds, with funding obtained from a tax increase of 1.7 percent on individual income of more than $400,000 and on joint-filer income greater than $800,000.

This NBER report is therefore timely:

Canada's Universal Childcare Hurt Children and Families

In Canada, the province of Quebec introduced universal subsidies to childcare over the period 1997-2000.... In Universal Childcare, Maternal Labor Supply, and Family Well-Being (NBER Working Paper No. 11832), authors Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber, and Kevin Milligan measure the implications of universal childcare by studying the effects of the Quebec Family Policy....

The authors first find that there was an enormous rise in childcare use in response to these subsidies: childcare use rose by one-third over just a few years. About a third of this shift appears to arise from women who previously had informal arrangements moving into the formal (subsidized) sector, and there were also equally large shifts from family and friend-based child care to paid care. Correspondingly, there was a large rise in the labor supply of married women when this program was introduced.

Disturbingly, the authors report that children's outcomes have worsened since the program was introduced along a variety of behavioral and health dimensions. The NLSCY contains a host of measures of child well being developed by social scientists, ranging from aggression and hyperactivity, to motor-social skills, to illness. Along virtually every one of these dimensions, children in Quebec see their outcomes deteriorate relative to children in the rest of the nation over this time period. Their results imply that this policy resulted in a rise of anxiety of children exposed to this new program of between 60 percent and 150 percent, and a decline in motor/social skills of between 8 percent and 20 percent. These findings represent a sharp break from previous trends in Quebec and the rest of the nation, and there are no such effects found for older children who were not subject to this policy change.

The authors also find that families became more strained with the introduction of the program, as manifested in more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse adult mental health, and lower relationship satisfaction for mothers.