Bad Education

The high cost of "free" preschool.


When actor-director Rob Reiner turns his focus to public policy, things get expensive. His latest tax referendum, dubbed Preschool for All, would cost California $2.4 billion per year. The program would offer every 4-year-old in the state 180 days of three-hour-a-day "free" preschool, financed by a 1.7 percent tax on individuals who earn more than $400,000 a year and couples who earn more than $800,000.

The punchline: Two-thirds of California's 4-year-olds already attend preschool. Reiner's referendum, which voters will consider in June, aims to have 70 percent of them attending, an increase of 22,000 children. That makes the marginal cost for each additional kid $109,000 a year.

Will it be worth it? Experience suggests not. None of the 10 states that score best on the National Assessment of Educational Progress offer universal preschool. The only two states with long-running universal preschool programs, Georgia and Oklahoma, are at the very bottom of national reading achievement rankings for elementary school children.