Did you go to preschool? When I was growing up, few kids did. But now there is a new movement that says every child in America should have a chance to start school before kindergarten -- at taxpayer expense.
It's part of President Obama's massive spending plans. His "stimulus" bill includes an Early Learning Challenge Grant to encourage states to "Develop a cutting-edge plan to raise the quality of your early learning programs" (http://tinyurl.com/cv6s23). It's a popular idea. Sixty-seven percent of Americans favor universal pre-K funded by the government. But I doubt that most Americans have thought it through.
Mia Levi has. She told me, "This whole thing is a scam."
Levi runs six preschools. I thought she'd favor the program, since she'd collect easy money from the government.
"I don't want to have to answer to the government," she said in my ABC special "Bailouts and Bull." "Our programs are so far superior."
Universal pre-K would create a single standard for preschools, but why is that a good thing? Why should we think there is one way to do preschool and that government experts know what it is? President Obama doesn't acknowledge what Nobel economist F. A. Hayek taught us: Competition is a discovery process.
Levi has to work hard to improve her schools because she knows that, unlike with government services, parents have options.
"If we didn't do our job, families would go down the street to the next school. Public schools aren't doing their job, and they get to just keep opening their doors. To say that they are the ones to define ... quality is laughable."
As she says, the pre-K movement has the whiff of scam about it. Most American kids already attend preschool. Parents pay for it themselves, and those who can't afford it can get government subsidies or use free programs like Head Start. But under universal pre-K, taxpayers would pay for every child.
"It's a flagrant waste of money," Levi said. "It's as if I went shopping for myself because I needed a dress for a party and I bought a dress for everybody else whether they needed it or not."
But we keep hearing that investment in pre-K will pay off later. Obama says, "For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health costs and less crime."