A 2007 survey by the National Institute of Child Health Development deemed the majority of operations to be “fair” or “poor”—only 10 percent provided high-quality care. Experts recommend a ratio of one caregiver for every three infants between six and 18 months, but just one-third of children are in settings that meet that standard. Depending on the state, some providers may need only minimal or no training in safety, health, or child development. And because child care is so poorly paid, it doesn’t attract the highly skilled.
Cohn notes that universal day care would actually be a positive long-term investment for the country:
James Heckman, the Nobel-winning economist, has calculated that, in the best early childhood programs, every dollar that society invests yields between $7 and $12 in benefits. When children grow up to become productive members of the workforce, they feed more money into the economy and pay more taxes. They also cost the state less—for trips to the E.R., special education, incarceration, unemployment benefits, and other expenses that have been linked to inadequate nurturing in the earliest years of life.
This all sounds very good, but the theory has been tested, and the results were mixed at best. In 2010 the Department of Health and Human Services issued a report on Head Start, a federal day care program for low-income children, and found that whatever positive influence it may have had on their social and cognitive development faded away once they entered elementary school.Cohn is right to point out how expensive child care is, and how challenging being a single mother can be. But we are generally wary of solutions that call for extensive government funding for universal child care, especially if it leads to a system of state-run preschools. (Oklahoma has already taken some steps in this direction.) This is exactly what we don’t need. America already spends more per pupil than every other country on public schools while achieving only middling results. Why we would want to expand this failing system to cover younger children is beyond us.[Nursing image courtesy of Ron and Joe / Shutterstock.com]