Gail Collins on Politics Surrounding Expanding Preschools
Gail Collins with a NYT op ed on the politics around expanding pre-K:
The nation’s fabled upward mobility has come to a screeching halt because low-income kids start behind in kindergarten and never catch up. Nobody has come up with a better idea for fixing the problem than early childhood education.
“People in my home state are like — ‘Oh, my God! I’m so glad you’re talking about this,’ ” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington.
Residents of Washington, you are really doing an excellent job of lobbying Murray on this issue. But, honestly, she is not your problem. Patty Murray used to be a preschool teacher. If you happen to have any relatives in Kentucky, call them up and tell them to start nagging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“The Leader opposes tax hikes,” a McConnell spokesman said when asked about the president’s plan. Notice that he did not say cigarette tax. Kentucky lawmakers are so committed to tobacco that former Senator Jim Bunning once single-handedly held up President Obama’s nominee for deputy U.S. trade representative because he was angry at Canada for banning the sale of candy-flavored cigarettes. But there’s something about saying “I oppose using a tax on Marlboros to fund education of low-income 4-year-olds” that people seem to find unpleasant.
I am telling you all this because nothing major is going to happen for early-childhood education without an enormous groundswell of public demand. This is a cause that’s extremely popular in theory. But its advocates have no power to reward or punish. Lawmakers who labor on behalf of preschool programs may get stars in heaven, but they don’t get squat in campaign contributions. And the ones who eliminate money for infant care programs have no fear whatsoever that they’ll lose an election over it.
Look at McConnell. The Head Start programs in his state are already shrinking because of sequestration cuts. In western Kentucky, Audubon Area Community Services has had to close 12 classrooms and lay off 42 staff members. McConnell is running for re-election, but you do not see him sending out press releases demanding more money for preschool teachers. No, he’s bragging about killing an amendment to the farm bill that would have eliminated tobacco subsidies. (“I was happy to lead the fight to protect our farmers from another assault by Washington to go after our home-state jobs.”)
If you want to lobby, I’d start with the Senate. The House is impossible, working under a budget that cuts spending on health and education about 22 percent below last year’s level.