The Deafening "Liberal" Silence on Universal Pre-K

As the debate rages over the president's budget, the Left's prognosticators in the national media seem to be singularly focused on the president's proposal to use something called the "Chained CPI" to calculate increases in Social Security Cost of Living Adjustments, along with every other inflation adjusted measure of government. Here on TPV, we have dissected the merits of Chained CPI, its impact on Social Security, and the whole math on "cumulative" benefits. But this post won't be about that. If I haven't already convinced you that Chained CPI may be a necessary compromise for bigger overhauls in the budget, I probably never will.

I want to talk about something else entirely. I want to talk about universal early childhood education and the lack of intensity of support it is getting from the same outlets that are setting their hair on fire all over the place. For every group calling themselves liberal or a progressive - or for that matter for every legislator calling himself or herself a progressive - I have a simple question: Why aren't you supporting the president's proposal for universal pre-K with even a fraction of the passion, intensity and voracity with which you oppose Chained CPI?

After all, the lifelong benefits for children who have access to quality preschool aren't exactly a secret. Not only do a shamefully low 30% of three and four year olds have access to quality pre-K, the ones with the least access are the ones at the greatest need and the highest risk. Just how much better off could we be?
...without a high-quality early childhood intervention, an at-risk child is:
  • 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
  • 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent
  • 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education
  • 60 percent more likely never to attend college
  • 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime
The famous long-term Perry pre-K study that began in 1960 documents the gains among at-risk students over the longer term:




So, if we invest in universal pre-K, we could significantly reduce dropouts and teen pregnancy, vastly reduce the chance of someone ending up in the prison system, and greatly increase the chance that a child will go to college. And what about the return on investment?
High quality pre-K also creates lifelong benefits. Former participants are more likely to be employed and own a home, and commit fewer crimes. Pre-K even generates high economic return for taxpayers, at least $5 for each $1 invested.

If we are to live the values we preach, social justice cannot just be a catchphrase. Beyond the sins of poverty and hunger themselves, I can hardly see a greater social injustice than knowing what could help at-risk young children break the cycle of poverty, hopelessness and the prison pipeline and not doing anything about it. We are all familiar with the opportunity disparity in this country between the rich and everyone else. We know that disparity starts with the opportunity to learn at the earliest stages of life. We know this is wrong for a society that values itself on giving everyone a fair shot. How do we progressives sit silently by when what may be the best opportunity in decades to correct that inequity is presenting itself?

If we do agree that this is a matter of social justice, then where are the self-proclaimed mouthpieces of the Left? Now that we have a chance to do something about it, where are the people who regularly pay lip service to social justice, and to the poor and the middle class and families?

What I want to know is where is the MoveOn phone bank to pressure our members of Congress to pass universal pre-K? Where can I sign up to hear Bernie Sanders give a speech in favor of universal preschool with as much passion as he speaks against the Chained CPI? Where is the AFL-CIO email urging everyone to back the president up for the sake of our children?

What I want to know is why investing the youngest at-risk children doesn't matter to the Left's "movement" at least as much as opposing a change in the method of calculating inflation. I want to know why this crucial social, educational and children's justice proposal is being starved of airtime while it's rage over Chained CPI everywhere all the time in the "liberal" outlets. I want to know when the "Left" lost our capacity and our willingness to advocate for America's children. I want to know why we, as a movement, should focus all our energy on a minor change to costs of living adjustments in social security (while creating a new base benefit) and none on young children who are at risk every single day and have nowhere to turn. Don't those children deserve at least some of our attention? Don't they deserve at least some of the passion and righteousness that we seem to be spending on the "chained CPI?"

Why is it I only seem to hear the chirps of crickets when I ask those questions? Is it because the self-anointed representatives of the Left have become so stale that they cannot see the obvious social, economic and cultural benefits from universal preschool? May be it's because the Left is so encumbered in having an outrage over Chained CPI that they don't have time to advance the cause of the future of America's children.

Or is it because kids can't vote?