Have you ever heard an argument where both sides were right? Well that - to me at least - is exactly what's under way in the Missouri General Assembly concerning a proposal to create a rating system for early childhood education centers in Missouri.
Sen. Charles Shields of St. Joseph wants the state to begin an accreditation process for early childhood education centers in Missouri that teach development skills to kids younger than 5. Shields says the process will basically force these centers to improve their staffing and training and result in an improved kickstart for kids about to enter the public school systems of Missouri. There's little doubt he's right. In fact, pilot projects using the rating system have already shown improvements. The estimated cost of the accreditation process is about $8 million.
But Sen. Scott Rupp of St. Charles is opposed to the plan because he says the rating system will only drive up costs for the centers and that will mean higher costs for the families which send their kids there. In turn, the state will be forced to increase child care subsidies to help pay for the new costs driven by the rating system accreditation. Rupp says the $8 million plan could skyrocket to $50 million because of the state intervention.
Both sides of the argument made their pitch before a Missouri Senate committee. Proponents say the ratings have improved the quality of education at the centers. Opponents argue the accreditation process just brings more expense and is yet another example of government sticking its nose where it does not belong.
So there you have it. State accreditation apparently works to improve the early childhood education centers but it also brings substantial added expense. Is it worth the costs? Or is it another classic example of government spending our tax dollars when they could be better spent elsewhere?
I clearly fall on the side that argues against the plan. Government rarely knows exactly the costs of new programs and rarely - in the long run - finds much success in such endeavors.
The missing ingredient in this discussion is the need for parental involvement. If parents demanded improved preschool education and stuck to their guns, the centers would hear those voices and respond accordingly. That certainly doesn't mean that additional staffing and training are not important because in some cases, I'm sure that's true. But when the state wants to establish some arbitrary ranking system and use your tax dollars to fund that process, I get concerned.
In fact, I find myself concerned with most areas where government thinks they can do something better than the private sector. History is clearly on my side in this argument.