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The Preschool Promise
Even a preschooler knows stupid when they see it.
Unintended Consequences are not just for people. Governments are purveyors of the unintended as well. In fact, they are the Unchallenged Masters of unintended consequences. No one can create the “unintended” quite on the grandeur and scale that your friendly neighborhood county, state, and federal governments can.
[WARNING, I am going to get just a bit political in this one.]
Other People’s Money.
“OPM” as it is commonly called is, if you don’t know it, where people tend to be a bit reckless with money when it is NOT theirs. As a hypothetical:
If YOU won $1 Million dollars in the lottery, you would likely run out and spend a bit of it. Maybe a new car? Possibly a new heating system because your family keeps complaining because their feet freeze to the floor when they get out of the shower. Stuff like that. Having done that, you would then put the majority into savings and investments to put the kids through college and ensure your future. (Unless of course you are one of our hapless failures from my previous article on lottery winners: Dreams Do Come True... and Then You Die)
If a POLITICIAN suddenly gets access to $100 Million of YOUR taxpayer dollars (OPM) to spend on a pet program, that politician is not worried about the future. He is only worried about how he can spend it all in a way that will help him get reelected, and maybe, possibly accomplish a bit of something real and useful if he is lucky. His focus will primarily be on the feel-good, do-good imagery of the spending, NOT on how effectively the money is spent. After all, it’s only play money to him.
As we have seen time and time again, when “public servants” (not all, but many) have access and control of YOUR money, they tend to forget that those dollars represent real money that people worked hard to earn. The money is often spent without any true checks and balances. This often leads to mega super-sized unintended consequences.
Time for an Education in Bad Spending
So how does this relate to our unintended consequence? Politicians are not known for their prowess of thinking through the full consequences of their actions. They tend to treat money like a trove of candy to be tossed around for favors. They throw this candy at a perceived or invented problem (that they probably created in the first place) in an effort to fix the observable top level (the stuff that gets them reelected) without ever considering the critical underlying factors, the consequences outside of their solutions, or even how a program could potentially be abused.
This is inherently obvious in the way they spend money on education. The educational system is rife with waste, abuse, and payoffs under the guise of public service and “for the children.” [See, I warned you I was going to get a bit political. You can still walk away without severe injury.]
Having said that, YES, there are areas where we need to apply more funding. However…
This article is NOT meant to debate the pros and cons of funding education, but simply to demonstrate the wasteful attitude of government towards education spending and the unintended consequences thereof.
Spend the money wisely and our children will benefit. Spend it poorly and the children will suffer for it.
Let’s see what happens when we dump millions of taxpayer dollars (your money) into an educational program that sounds really, really good, has a great name, and will likely help someone get reelected.
The Preschool Promise Program
[From news reports.] The Oregon Department of Education decided they wanted to help low-income families access preschools throughout the state. Their shiny new Preschool Promise Program (PSP) launched in 2016 was designed to publicly fund (at the state-level) preschool to families at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
Sounds like a very worthy effort, doesn't it?
Preschool is expensive and not everyone can afford it. But as with all things government, the insanity of this ill-conceived program quickly set in.
The essence of the program is that the state would award slots to expensive childcare facilities that would then be kept available for preschoolers of families below the poverty limit. The state would pay these facilities roughly $14,000 per year to hold those seats open for any qualifying family who wanted to use the facility at state expense. The schools would keep these seats available whether any child used the slot or not.
Do you begin to see where this can go wrong? I think we all do.
It’s obvious to anyone who cares about the COST of the program. If you are trying to get reelected and it is OPM, maybe not so much. For the rest of us mere mortals, anyone who had a stake in the development of a program like this would naturally ask themselves…
What if parents don’t step up to use these slots being held at childcare centers?
As is usual with ill-designed and poorly executed government programs throughout history, it all went south very quickly. Why don’t we have a little fun and look at a few numbers, shall we? We’ll stick with school years 2020-2021 (year-1) and 2021-2022 (year-2) – a 2-year span.
Oregon awarded approximately $90 Million dollars to childcare centers over this 2-year period.
~2,100 students were enrolled in year-1 and ~3,300 were enrolled in year-2.
If you average it out, that means Oregon paid $16,667 per student.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Don’t worry, it breaks down very quickly (all dollars are approximated).
You might ask, “How were those 1,028 unfilled seats handled?”
One childcare center was awarded $600,000 dollars over the 2-years. During that time, they reported 10 students in the program. Cost to the taxpayers = $60,000 per student.
Another center was paid $224,000 dollars. They reported just TWO students enrolled. Cost to the taxpayers = $112,000 per student.
Yet another center was paid $818,000 dollars. They reported just TWO students enrolled. Cost to the taxpayers = $40,900 per student.
And the Grand Award Winner for our list was paid $520,000 dollars. They reported just ONE student enrolled in year-2. If my math is correct, the cost to the taxpayers = $520,000 for a single student.
And the list goes on and on.
I’m sure that preschooler who got that $520,000 dollar seat received the most amazing education in the history of education. After all, if more money equals a better education, that kid should do well in life.
Can We Recognize Our Own Insanity?
How did Oregon justify this? Apparently, the people in charge of this program felt they needed to reserve the seats just in case and felt there was no other way to manage the program than to dump money into it without consideration for how it would actually work or the impact it would have on the community.
Right off the top of my head, the simplest fix would be to require a cutoff date for program enrollment so the schools could open those seats to other students if they were not going to be used. \/ See below.
You see, the biggest insanity of all of this is that the preschool centers who were being paid for these slots were required by the law to hold those seats for program users. Often the centers had to → TURN AWAY PAYING PARENTS ← to hold empty seats for these Preschool Promise students who never materialized.
A program enrollment cutoff date would resolve that problem and allow Oregon to reallocate those seats to different centers where they were needed most. This would maximize use of the program and either reduce total coast or spend those taxpayer dollars much more effectively. See how easy that was?
Heck, if the seats were not getting filled, they could offer those empty seats to low-income residents who didn’t fully quality for the threshold and use a graduated cost-sharing model. I could do this all day long. Why was it so hard for them to discern a better way to serve the community?
It appears they were blinded by the usual pumped-up-on-steroids government theology of spending maximum OPM with abandon to get good press while also applying ZERO understanding of the real world.
An unintended consequence was of course the massive waste of taxpayer dollars, but we must also consider a totally unexpected consequence in that many families could not send their kids to the school of their choice because too many unfilled seats were locked out by the program. Those seats sat empty, unused, wasted.
One would hope that Oregon has corrected this problem by now. If not, the Oregon voters need to get loud and bold. This is their money that the state is wiping their butts with and flushing down their gilded toilets.
Sorry for leaving you with that image in your mind.
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Author of “Public Speaking for Kids, Tweens, and Teens - Confidence for Life!”
COMING SOON to a bookstore near you, my latest book exploring the crisis in our K-12 Educational System. Is it time for The Great Education Reset?
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