But is early childhood education effective?

The Albuquerque Journal had an interesting article over the weekend about legislation (SJR3) that would amend New Mexico’s Constitution to tap the permanent fund for early childhood education.

The concern of most conservatives revolves around the issue of tapping the permanent fund and how much such an initiative would cost future generations who are supposed to benefit from that fund. And, to be fair, the plan would spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually, thus reducing the amount of money in the fund. This is important, but I don’t think the “future generations” argument is an effective one. It hasn’t exactly stopped the spending spree in Washington and that involves trillions of dollars of debt that we’re passing along to future generations. Haggling over how much money we pass on to future generations is not likely to stir voters to action in opposition.

If we’re going to spend hundreds of additional dollars annually, New Mexicans need to know that their dollars are being used efficiently and effectively. That is where I believe the push for early childhood funding falls apart. We have one well-known and well-studied early childhood education system called Head Start (an $8 billion a year federal program). According to the government’s own studies, the effects of Head Start are “mostly gone by 3rd grade.” Further, “researchers found that the positive impacts on literacy and language development demonstrated by children who entered Head Start at age 4 had dissipated by the end of 3rd grade, and that they were, on average, academically indistinguishable from their peers who had not participated in Head Start.”

Worse, as this report from ABC News explains, Head Start has been plagued by scandal (again, the government’s own investigators uncovered this problem).

We will of course hear reassurances that New Mexico’s program will avoid the pitfalls experienced by the federal program. But wouldn’t New Mexicans be better off if we reformed our costly and ineffective K-12 system as it exists now (and into which those early childhood kids will inevitably graduate) and focused on helping New Mexico families coalesce and stay together rather than pouring untold millions into a new program, the benefits of which will likely wear off at a young age.