Virginia’s Budget-Busting Preschool Program

Even in the midst of a budget deficit, Virginia governor Tim Kaine is pushing for a massive and costly expansion of state-funded preschool programs. A Washington Post editorial today supports this.

But such state-subsidized preschool programs are far from a wise expenditure, as Darcy Olsen of the Goldwater Institute and several studies from the Reason Foundation have found. They do not increase most students’ academic performance at all in the long run, and have negative side effects for some students’ social development.

In a bow to economic reality, Kaine says he will limit his offer of free preschool to “poor” families. But his definition of “poor” is anyone with a household income of less than $38,000 per year. That’s enough money to live well in low-cost areas of Virginia, like the Dan River region. But it is not enough to reach many families in northern Virginia, which has a higher cost of living, and where even barely-literate non-English speaking households whose children will face language-based educational challenges frequently have household incomes in excess of $50,000.

His crude income test for eligibility thus provides charity for people who are not poor, while not covering some of the minority of students who might conceivably benefit from preschool programs.