The Teachers Unions’ Fight for Universal Preschool


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This summer, Congress will
consider reauthorization of the 2002 No
Child Left Behind Act, the Bush
Administration’s centerpiece education
legislation. This time around, Sen. Edward
Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep.
George Miller (D- California) are in the
driver’s seat. What kind of spoils will they
give their teachers union allies—perhaps
funding for “universal preschool”?

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The Teachers Unions’ Fight for Universal Preschool

  1. 1. The Teachers Unions’ Fight for Universal PreschoolBy James Dellinger & Ivan OsorioSummary: This summer, Congress willconsider reauthorization of the 2002 NoChild Left Behind Act, the BushAdministration’s centerpiece educationlegislation. This time around, Sen. Ed-ward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep.George Miller (D- California) are in thedriver’s seat. What kind of spoils will theygive their teachers union allies—perhapsfunding for “universal preschool”?ith Democratic majorities in theU.S. House and Senate, thenation’s teachers unions arecertain to make major demands on theirCapitol Hill allies in exchange for support-ing reauthorization of the 2002 No ChildLeft Behind Act (NCLB), the BushAdministration’s signature education leg-islation.One key union demand is for “universalpreschool” (or “universal pre-K”). Claim-ing that it’s needed to help boost earlytest scores to meet NCLB’s testing require-ments, unions are urging states to pro-vide costly preschool programs, pushingmore toddlers into classrooms.But the requirements of NCLB are notthe principal reason why unions want agovernment takeover of America’s pre-June 2007The Teachers Unions’ Fight forUniversal Preschoolpage 1Labor Notespage 6Wschools, which are voluntary and oftenfaith-based. For the unions, universal pre-school means more public-sector jobs ripefor unionization.Will public school systems monopolizepreschool as the unions want, allegedlyto meet the standards set forth by NCLB?Or can education reformers thwart themby offering parents school vouchers fortheir kids’ preschool?Since 1992 universal preschool advo-cated have held up the state of Georgia asa model. That year, then-Governor ZellMiller supported passage of the Lotteryfor Education Act, a bill to designate fundsfrom a state-run lottery for a variety ofeducation purposes. Today, roughly 70percent of the state’s four-year-olds par-ticipate in Georgia’s publicly funded pre-school program, available at no charge toall children regardless of parental income.Aside from the federal Head Start pro-gram, some 42 states are spending morethan $2.5 billion on some form of taxpayer-funded preschool. Missouri, Arkansas,Wisconsin and Oklahoma have universalpreschool programs similar to Georgia’s.These states spent nearly $600 million toadd slots for nearly 120,000 more childrenin 2006 alone.However, many Americans are rightlywary of these proposals. In June 2006,California voters defeated Proposition 82,a universal preschool initiative backed byThis American Federation of Teachers advertisement laments theinability of many public schools to meet the “annual yearly progress”goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The answer?“Universal preschool,” say unions looking to expand public schools.
  2. 2. Labor Watch June 2007Page 2Editor: Patrick J. ReillyPublisher: Terrence ScanlonAddress: 1513 16th Street, NWWashington, DC 20036-1480Phone: (202) 483-6900Email: preilly@capitalresearch.orgWebsite: www.capitalresearch.orgLabor Watch is published by CapitalResearchCenter,anon-partisaneducationandresearchorganizationclassifiedbytheIRS as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Reprintsare available for $2.50 prepaid to CapitalResearch and activist Rob Reiner. The fightover Proposition 82 highlights the politi-cal interests behind the preschool advo-cacy movement.For the Kids?Universal preschool has a large and in-fluential constituency, which includesRepublican and Democratic governors,grantmaking foundations, child advocacygroups and even some business lobbiesthat claim public preschool is necessaryto keep the American economy competi-tive. But it is the teachers unions that arethe wealth and power behind the univer-sal preschool campaigns.The National Education Association(NEA) wants the state to control most orall preschool programs as a boon to pub-lic education and to the union’s member-ship. Universal preschool is part of theNEA’s broader strategy to increase pub-lic school work hours at all levels of edu-cation, using the dubious argument thatmore time in school ensures a better edu-cation.“We know that children who attend full-day kindergarten are better prepared in-tellectually, socially and psychologicallythan children who attend kindergarten forhalf-days,” says NEA president RegWeaver. “We know that attempting to re-pair reading skills in the fourth grade isfar more expensive and risky than guaran-teeing good pre-reading skills in pre-school and good beginning reading skillsin kindergarten.”Presenting public schooling as a bar-gain and lamenting that “the country isnot making this investment,” the NEA ad-vocates “free, publicly funded,” manda-tory full-day kindergarten programs inevery state, as well as optional public uni-versal preschool for all three- and four-year old children. This requires federalfunds to support universal preschool forchildren from disadvantaged families, ar-gues the NEA, with additional state andlocal funds to provide preschool for theother children.“Public schools should be the primaryprovider of pre-kindergarten programs,and additional funding must be allocatedto finance them in the same manner as K-12 schools,” the NEA demands.The American Federation of Teachers(AFT) has much the same position.“AFT strongly agrees that universalearly childhood education is an absolutenecessity,” says AFT Executive Vice Presi-dent Antonia Cortese. “A good start pro-vides an important foundation, especiallyfor disadvantaged students.”But while touting the benefits to chil-dren, AFT is not shy about its more self-ish concern for additional union membersand higher teacher pay. AFT seeks “earlychildhood programs that include a highly-qualified and well-compensated cadre ofearly childhood teachers,” announcedMarci Young, director of AFT’s Center forChild Care Workforce. All of this, of course,sounds much like the teachers unions’familiar refrain, “If only you gave us moremoney.”If advocates are serious about increas-ing preschool enrollment, their most ef-fective option would be to tap into thealready-vibrant education market throughuniversal vouchers, rather than expandthe nation’s already bloated public schoolsystems. This has yet to happen in anystate; both the NEA and the AFT opposetuition vouchers in almost all circum-stances. On its website, the NEA dis-misses tuition vouchers as “an elitist strat-egy” that is “about subsidizing tuition forstudents in private schools, not expand-ing opportunities for low-income chil-dren.”California Says NoAdvocates for universal preschool fre-quently cite studies claiming that four-year-olds benefit from high-quality pre-school programs, since those who attendpreschool are less likely to need special-education classes or to drop out ofschool, and they are more likely to gradu-ate from high school. The public’s accep-tance of this conventional wisdom wouldseem to make state preschool expansionalmost a done deal—but someone forgotto tell California voters.In June 2006, California voters consid-ered Proposition 82, which would haveestablished state-provided preschool forall of the state’s three-and four-year-olds.Its main proponent was actor/producerRob Reiner, best known for his role as“Meathead” in the 1970s television pro-gram “All in the Family.” “A lot of educa-tors say they’d swap 12th grade for pre-K,” Reiner told the Washington Post.For intellectual ammunition, the “Yes on82” campaign relied on a 2005 RAND Cor-poration study, which concluded that “ev-ery dollar California invests in quality pre-school would return $2.62 in savings fromreduced remedial education, lower drop-out rates, less crime and a better-educatedworkforce.”The RAND study was funded by theDavid and Lucile Packard Foundation,which figured prominently in the push forProposition 82. In doing so, the PackardFoundation would appear to have violatedits own mission statement. According toits website, “The Foundation does notfund attempts to influence specific legis-lation or ballot measures.”Besides funding the RAND study, thePackard Foundation also awarded morethan $18.9 million in 2004 and 2005 to 52other groups working to research, studyand advocate for universal preschool. Inaddition to support for its 2005 study, theRAND Corporation received $100,000 “forcontinuing research and disseminationwork on the economic benefits of invest-ing in universal preschool in California,”according to the foundation’s IRS report.The AFT’s Center for Child CareWorkforce received a planning grant “toincrease understanding and promote sup-port among [the California Federation ofTeachers] members for California’s Pre-school for All initiative,” according to a
  3. 3. June 2007 Labor Watch Page 3“Prop. 82 will strengthen public education by puttingcredentialed teachers in every preschool classroomand increasing the opportunity for teacher training,”[the California Teachers Association] boasted.January 2004 AFT press release.The Packard Foundation was also a prin-cipal supporter of Preschool California, agroup also funded by the California Fed-eration of Teachers and the Service Em-ployees International Union. The non-profit, founded in 2003, had the leadingrole in drafting Proposition 82. PreschoolCalifornia’s declared mission is to secure“publicly funded, quality preschool op-portunity for all California children” andtive came from the big union PACs: $1.3million from the California State Councilof the Service Employees InternationalUnion (SEIU) political action committeeand $1.5 million from the California Teach-ers Association Issues PAC. Other unionsupporters of “Yes on 82” included theAFT ($175,000); the American Federationof State, County & Municipal Employees($350,000); the California Federation ofTeachers ($75,000); and the SEIUpreschool expansion. Existing faith-basedand for-profit childcare providers had rea-son to fear that they could lose their shareof the market. Voters without young chil-dren far outnumbered those with children,and they were less likely to follow the de-bate over preschool benefits and vote forthem. And then there were the many par-ents with preschool-age children who hadalready placed their children in a local pre-school program. Many of these programswere religious or home-based. These par-ents recognized a benefit of a private pre-school program, which is why they vol-untarily enrolled their children in them.The teachers unions, however, onlywanted publicly-funded and publicly-cre-dentialed preschool expansion, and theycontinually appealed to the argumentsadvanced by the RAND study and byPreSchool California. For instance, Pre-school California claimed that “research-based evidence demonstrates clear aca-demic and social benefits to childrenacross socioeconomic levels who attendquality preschool programs.”These arguments are weak. In reality,many of the claimed social benefits can-not be demonstrated. In “No Magic Bul-let: Top Ten Myths About the Benefits ofGovernment-Run Universal Preschool,” aMay 2006 Pacific Research Institute re-port, researchers Lance Izumi and XiachinClaire Yan cited a 2005 Stanford-UC Ber-keley study they conducted calling intoquestion the value of preschool programs.The study measured three areas of so-cial development: “children’s externalizingbehavior, interpersonal skills, and self-control in engaging classroom tasks.”Amazingly, the study found that going topreschool appears to hold back a child’ssocial development.“We find that attendance in preschoolcenters, even for short periods (not fulltime) of time, each week, hinders the rateat which young children develop socialskills and display the motivation to en-gage in classroom tasks, as reported bykindergarten teachers,” wrote Izumi andYan. Preschool can also lead to a “slow-ing of typical rates of social-emotionalgrowth [that is] is particularly strong forblack children and for children from thepoorest families.”to “develop, monitor and analyze state-wide preschool initiatives.” That too ishardly consistent with the PackardFoundation’s rule against funding ballotmeasures.Union Support for 82The California Teachers Association(CTA) and the California Federation ofTeachers (CFT), affiliates of the state’sNEA and AFT, vigorously supportedProposition 82 with good reason: It wouldboost their membership by requiring thestate to hire more preschool teachers.“Prop. 82 will strengthen public educationby putting credentialed teachers in everypreschool classroom and increasing theopportunity for teacher training,” CTAboasted.However, most CTA public statementsavoided arguments from self-interest andemphasized the importance of helping thekids: “Studies show that children who at-tend quality preschool read earlier andlearn faster,” read one CTA press release.“Unfortunately, only about 20 percent ofCalifornia children ever get the opportu-nity to go. If Proposition 82 on the Juneballot wins voter approval, those odds willchange. The measure will provide a free,high-quality preschool education for ev-ery four-year-old whose parents wish totake advantage of the opportunity.”Financial support for the ballot initia-($100,000). Non-union proponents in-cluded the California Democratic Party,eight district attorneys, several police as-sociations and an array of left-wing pres-sure groups, including California ACORNand California affiliates of Planned Parent-hood.The state’s Democratic establishmentalso turned out for the “Yes on 82” coali-tion: State Treasurer Phil Angelides (whounsuccessfully challenged Gov. ArnoldSchwarzenegger), Los Angeles MayorAntonio Villaraigosa, San FranciscoMayor Gavin Newsom, Senators DianneFeinstein and Barbara Boxer, then-HouseMinority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Reps.Howard Berman, Anna G. Eshoo, BobFilner, Jane Harman, George Miller, LindaSanchez and Pete Stark. (For other con-tributors, see the list on page 4.)Proposition 82 supporters outraised andoutspent their opponents by an over-whelming two-to-one margin. Accordingto records submitted to the California Sec-retary of State, supporters of Proposition82 raised $19.1 million, while opponentsof the measure raised only $9.3 million.Nevertheless, Proposition 82 failed.When the votes were counted, only 39percent of voters supported the measure.Weak ArgumentsWhy did Prop. 82 lose? A loose coali-tion of groups stood in the way of state
  4. 4. Labor Watch June 2007Page 4ORGANIZATIONSAFL-CIOAmerican Academy of Pediatrics, CaliforniaAmerican Federation of State, County & Municipal EmployeesAssociation of California School AdministratorsCalifornia ACORNCalifornia Alliance for Retired AmericansCalifornia Association of Older AmericansCalifornia County Superintendents Educational Services Assoc.California Democratic PartyCalifornia Federation of TeachersCalifornia Legislative Council for Older AmericansCalifornia School Nurses OrganizationCalifornia Teachers AssociationCalifornia Teamsters Public Affairs CouncilCalifornia Young DemocratsCalifornia Women LawyersChildren NowCongress of California SeniorsDel Norte County Democratic Central CommitteeDemocratic Party of the San Fernando ValleyDemocratic Women of KernDemocrats of the DesertHigh Schoolers Organized for Preschool Education (HOPE)Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE)Marin Women’s CommissionMexican American Legal Defense and Education FundNational Association for Advancement of Colored People, CANational Association of Social WorkersNational Council of La RazaOwens River Democratic ClubParents Action for ChildrenPlacer County Democratic Central CommitteePlanned Parenthood Affiliates of CaliforniaPreschool CaliforniaSan Fernando Valley Young DemocratsSenior Action NetworkService Employees International UnionUnited Farm Workers of AmericaWest Hollywood Democratic ClubBUSINESS COMMUNITYLos Angeles Area Chamber of CommerceSan Francisco Chamber of CommerceOakland Metropolitan Chamber of CommerceCalifornia Black Chamber of CommerceAlameda County Hispanic Chamber of CommerceEmeryville Chamber of CommerceGreater El Sereno Chamber of CommerceSan Francisco Hispanic Chamber of CommerceSaratoga Chamber of CommerceRichard Riordan, fmr. L.A. Mayor & Education SecretaryBruce Chizen, CEO, Adobe SystemsEli Broad, Founder, SunAmerica, Inc.Reed Hastings, CEO, NetflixSherry Lansing, fmr. President, Paramount PicturesPUBLIC OFFICIALSU.S. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinU.S. Sen. Barbara BoxerU.S. Rep. Nancy PelosiU.S. Rep. Howard BermanU.S. Rep. Anna G. EshooU.S. Rep. Bob FilnerU.S. Rep. Jane HarmanU.S. Rep. Linda SanchezU.S. Rep. Pete StarkCalifornia State Controller Steve WestlyCalifornia State Treasurer Phil AngelidesSuperintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’ConnellSpeaker of the CA. Assembly Fabian NunezDistrict attorneys of Alameda County, Calaveras County, ElDorado County, Fresno County, Humboldt County, Inyo County,Merced County, Nevada County, Plumas County, San Fran-cisco CountyMayor of Los Angeles Antonio VillaraigosaMayor of San Francisco Gavin NewsomMayor of Sacramento Heather FargoMayor of San Jose Ron GonzalesMayor Pro Tem of San Fernando Nury MartinezCity of CapitolaCity of Santa Monica12 California State Senators32 California State AssemblymembersS.F. County Supervisor Ross MirkarimiSan Mateo County Supervisor Jerry HillKern County Supervisor Michael J. RubioOakland City Council President Ignacio De La FuenteL.A. County Supervisor Yvonne BurkeL.A. County Supervisor Zev YaroslavskyL.A. Council President Eric GarcettiSanta Monica Mayor Robert HolbrookSupporters of California Proposition 82 (partial list)
  5. 5. June 2007 Labor Watch Page 5Preschool California also erroneouslyclaimed that universal preschool’s ben-efits are lasting and far-reaching, relyingon the Packard-funded RAND study,which examined the disparate test scoresof European and American students. Izumiand Yan charge that RAND made a “purelyspeculative argument that ‘a connectionbetween sub-par, widely dispersed testresults and less-than universal early edu-cation is at least plausible.’”Izumi and Yan countered by citing a2005 Goldwater Institute study that alsolooked at international test scores. It ar-rived at conclusions contrary to the Randstudy.The Goldwater study, “Assessing Pro-posals for Preschool and Kindergarten:Essential Information for Parents, Taxpay-ers and Policymakers” by Darcy Olsen,notes that all three-and four-year-olds inFrance go to preschool, and then positsthat if preschool attendance is so valu-able, these students should outperformAmerican students. But French studentsdon’t outperform U.S. students.“Test scores reveal that U.S. studentsroutinely outperform their internationalcounterparts in reading, math, and sciencein fourth grade,’” Olsen concluded. Ameri-cans only begin to fall behind in second-ary school.“The better inference, then, is not thatU.S. students are underperforming be-cause of a lack of preschool education,but rather that something negative at themiddle-school level is depressing studentachievement,” Olsen wrote.Then there is the Reason Foundationstudy that also analyzed the RANDstudy’s claims and found them wanting.“Is Universal Preschool Beneficial?” bySan Jose State University economistsChristopher Cardiff and Edward Stringhamwas published in May 2006:“If the RAND study was submitted inour San Jose State University classrooms,it would get an F,” charged Cardiff andStringham. The Rand study’s conclusionthat government-run preschools wouldgenerate “between $2 and $4 in benefitsfor every dollar expended” did not holdup to stringent statistical review. Cardiffand Stringham used “RAND’s own dataand alternative assumptions” to concludethat government-run preschools would“generate losses of 25 to 30 cents for ev-ery dollar spent. And these losses are cal-culated before including any of the addi-tional universal preschool program coststhat RAND ignored in its analysis.”The RAND study, note Cardiff andStringham, “significantly overestimatesthe benefits of government-provided uni-versal preschool and significantly under-estimates the program’s costs.”According to a 2005 estimate, privatepreschool programs can cost from $3,000to $18,000 a year—and sometimes evenmore—according a report by StevenBarnett, director of the National Institutefor Early Education Research at RutgersUniversity. Given the record of publicschool systems, it would likely cost farmore per student if the states and theunions took over these responsibilities.Indeed, states with some form of uni-versal preschool have had to come upwith creative plans to pay for their pro-grams. States like Georgia use lottery pro-ceeds. The Oklahoma program is adminis-tered and funded by the state’s K-12 sys-tem. Arkansas and Missouri primarily fundtheir programs through so-called “sintaxes”—on alcohol in Arkansas and ongambling in Missouri.In Georgia, the state lottery brags abouthelping “more than 790,000 four-year oldsbegin their education early in pre-K.” Butare the funds well spent? No one can sayfor sure: Georgia does not maintain per-formance records for its program.What Next?It’s unclear whether Proposition 82failed because of its advocates’ weak ar-guments or because of taxpayer concerns.These were magnified when ethical con-cerns surfaced about the measure’s prin-cipal sponsor, Rob Reiner, and the statecommission he headed.In March 2006 the odor of scandal ledlawmakers—both Republican and Demo-cratic—to announce an audit of the First5 California Children and Families Com-mission, the state body chaired by RobReiner as the appointee of former Gov.Gray Davis. There had been allegationsby State Sen. Dave Cox and state Assem-bly Leader Dario Frommer that the Com-mission used taxpayer dollars to promoteProposition 82. It turned out that duringthe time that the Commission was spend-ing $23 million on a television advertisingcampaign to extol the benefits of pre-school, Reiner, then the Commission’schairman, was collecting signatures forthe initiative.Reiner was forced to resign from theCommission. The state auditor latercleared Reiner of improperly using publicfunds for Proposition 82, claiming that theCommission’s advertismeents were withinits mission of promoting preschool edu-cation. But the auditor did find that thecommission had violated state law by im-properly paying one of its contractors.Perhaps these allegations stirred Cali-fornia voters to reconsider the argumentsfor universal preschool. By requiring pub-lic schools to provide universal preschool,at least some voters might conclude thatthe state was undermining their parentalrights and limiting their kids’ academicoptions. And even the most complacentvoter could see that the requirements foruniversal preschool could easily becomeanother recruiting tool for teachersunions.If the teachers unions and educationadvocates are serious about increasingenrollment in preschool programs, thensurely parents should be able to shop forthe best preschool for their children withsome form of tuition voucher system.But don’t expect the National Educa-tion Association, the American Federationof Teachers and their affiliates to supportthat.James Dellinger is Executive Directorof EducationWatch and GreenWatch atthe Capital Research Center. Ivan Osoriois Editorial Director at the CompetitiveEnterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.Jason Hybner, a Capital Research Cen-ter intern in 2006, contributed back-ground research.
  6. 6. Labor Watch June 2007Page 6Labor NotesGovernment Accountability Office to Vote on UnionA majority of the 1,500 employees at the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog agency over federalagencies, have authorized an election to unionize under the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engi-neers, which also represents employees of the Congressional Research Service. GAO activists are organizing a petition toincrease pay, claiming the agency’s pay system is unfair.Democrats to Change Pending Trade AgreementsA bipartisan agreement by Congress and President Bush requires changes to four trade pacts that have already beennegotiated between the United States and Colombia, Panama, Peru and South Korea. The new provisions requirepartners to abide by five core standards of the International Labor Organization, including the right to organize andbargain collectively. But AFL-CIO President John Sweeney continues to oppose trade deals with both South Koreaand Colombia, citing concern over labor rights. Teamsters President James Hoffa wants Congress to push for evenmore changes to restrict outsourcing of jobs overseas. U.S. trade officials hope to amend the trade pacts withoutreopening negotiations, but if any partner refuses to accept the new changes, approval in Congress is unlikely.Did Union Donations Benefit Detroit’s Mayor?A Service Employees International Union local in Detroit made two $25,000 donations to a nonprofit tied to DetroitMayor Kwame Kilpatrick, later reporting each as a “political contribution.” The gifts to the Civic Fund were part ofmore than $100,000 in union contributions made prior to Kilpatrick’s come-from-behind victory in 2005. No one isclear how the Civic Fund spends its $500,000 annual income, reports the Detroit News, but it was revealed that theFund paid nearly $9,000 for a luxury resort vacation for Kilpatrick and his family.Federal Bill Would Instruct NLRB on Defining SupervisorsThe House has held hearings on a bill by Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) to overturn recent NLRB decisions defining whichemployees are “supervisors” under the National Labor Relations Act and therefore ineligible for union membership.Titled the Re-empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction and Tradesworkers (RESPECT) Act,the bill would redesignate the estimated 8 million workers who were defined as supervisors in the so-called “KentuckyRiver” NLRB decisions because at least a portion of their time is spent managing other employees. (See Labor Watch,September 2006.)Obama Bill Seeks Shareholder Approval of CEO PaySen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has introduced a union-supported bill to force companies to submit executive pay plans toshareholders for a nonbinding vote. The AFL-CIO argues the bill “will encourage boards of directors to considershareholder interests before approving a questionable compensation plan.” It will also give unions another opportunityto wage public campaigns against corporate officials.Union Veteran to Lead Democratic Political EffortsAs if the ties between labor unions and the Democratic Party were not obvious, the new political director at theDemocratic National Committee is veteran union activist David Boundy. He was the AFL-CIO’s campaign directorand deputy political director from 1996 to 2005, where he helped design and direct the AFL-CIO’s field programs. Healso served with the U.S. Department of Labor during the Clinton Administration and worked on presidential cam-paigns for Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis.
  7. 7. June 2007 Labor Watch Page 7