While some early-education programs may benefit particular populations, universal child care will yield unforeseen developmental consequences
NEW YORK, NY – With child tax-credit programs under consideration by policymakers on both sides of the aisle, a new report from Manhattan Institute senior fellow Max Eden offers timely insights on early-childhood spending. Eden reviews relevant literature on universal pre-kindergarten programs to suggest that “Pre-K for All,” once a popular mantra among progressive presidential candidates, may yield unforeseen negative consequences among some populations of developing children. Federal expansions of child tax credits, such as those currently under discussion on Capitol Hill, would allow parents at their own discretion to improve conditions for their children without introducing unnecessary developmental risks.
While proponents of universal pre-kindergarten programs have often suggested that such early-childhood programs improve life trajectories of children, the research on the topic tells a different story. A review of the literature suggests that while early education can be a profound benefit for deeply disadvantaged students, it can also set disadvantaged students farther back and potentially cause lasting harm to students born into middle-class families. To avoid negative cognitive, behavioral, and health consequences for young children, policymakers should avoid blanket spending on universal child-care programs and instead expand the federal child tax credit or even consider further direct financial subsidies for parents. Such a course of action would enable parents to make decisions about their young child’s early education needs, empowering them to allocate resources to early education or improve conditions for childrearing at home as they see fit.