The Mysterious Partisan Squabble Over Early Education


With state Republicans taking control of the House again, the early childhood education committee is no more.

Instead, Republicans have restructured committees with an emphasis on higher education finance, leaving early education proponents on the other side of the aisle grasping at efforts to maintain focus on closing the state's achievement gap.

Apparently, the realignment of education priorities along party lines comes up with every power shift in the House. The early childhood committee emerged in 2007 while Democrats reigned, then Republicans did away with it the first time when they captured the majority in 2010. Democrats resurrected the committee in 2012, and so it goes.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, who worked on the committee to invest about $50 million in childcare scholarships for pre-K children from low-income families, says it's a shame that legislators can't agree on what should be a bipartisan issue.

"There's a core group of anti-early childhood activists in the Republican party," Winkler said. "As we've seen on a lot of issues, an extreme faction of conservative members can push the Republican party in directions it otherwise may not go in. There's an agitated group against this."

One such group that staunchly believes young children should spend more time at home rather than in school is Education Liberty Watch. Director Karen Effrem says Democrats' prioritization of early education harms children who would rather stay home to play and mothers who would rather stay home watching them do so than work.

"Unfortunately, expanding early childhood programs just raises taxes more, which makes it harder for women to stay home," Effrem said. "There are lots of programs and things that are being done by government that are just way too expensive."

In a home environment, the onus would be on the parents to teach the basics: colors, numbers, and letters, which would hopefully put children in correct standing to start school in the first grade and not lag behind standards for the rest of their academic lives.

"Standardization of education is making early childhood too academic too early, and it also tends to focus a little too much on subjective and controversial psycho-social issues that don't really matter," Effrem said.

Such as poverty?

Winker says the fact of the matter is that Minnesota women work, and when they work they need to put their children in quality, educational childcare programs regardless of their families' income.

See also: John Kline's Descent From Patriot to the Whore of Higher Ed