Who Should Pay For Early Education?

Lane Kenworthy believes that, eventually, “the United States is likely to have universal publicly-funded early education for children aged one to four.” How he would like the system designed:

American parents with a child younger than age five in out-of-home care currently pay, on average, about $9,000 per year for that care. Childcare expenditures amount to 40% of income for families with incomes below $18,000, and 20% for those with incomes between $18,000 and $36,000. That’s far too much.

How much should parents pay? A sliding scale, with the user fee rising in proportion to family income and capped at around 10%, seems sensible.

Should it be free for those with low incomes? I think that would be a mistake. Early education differs from services that relatively few people opt out of, such as police protection, healthcare, and even K-12 education. Families that prefer to provide stay-at-home parental care for their young children will elect not to use it. This argues for having parents who do use it pay something — even parents with little income. The fee should be modest, but it shouldn’t be zero.

Some recent polling on who should pay for early education:

[A]ccording to the latest Reason-Rupe poll, only 37 percent of Americans favor raising taxes to create a universal preschool system, while 61 percent oppose. When asked who should be “primarily responsible” for paying for preschool, 57 percent of Americans think parents should pay and 32 percent want the government to be responsible for paying.