Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Give mothers their druthers (and their money)

"Is my mommy paying your salary?"
Let me say up front that I'm not thrilled to be writing about newborns and toddlers on a blog that deals with schools. I don't think babies and toddlers should be in schools. I agree with Patricia Cox, the superintendent of the Aline-Cleo Springs School District near Enid, that "in a perfect world, a beautiful world, children would not start school until age 8."

But that's not the world we live in. We live in a world where Oklahoma public schools offer extended daycare and happily enroll six-week-old students in an "education" program whose "curriculum" encourages "language enrichment" and "problem solving." We live in a world where Oklahoma's top education officials, state Superintendent Janet Barresi and Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki, go out of their way to pronounce it "exciting" and "outstanding" that six-week-old students are part of Oklahoma's "early childhood education" system.

This surrogate parenting, of course, is key to the feminist project. As Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly explain in their new book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know—And Men Can’t Say:

The left wants to diminish the role and authority parents have over their preschool children. The lingo used for this goal varies. Sometimes it’s called "pre-kindergarten (pre-K)," sometimes "early childhood education," sometimes "full-day kindergarten," and sometimes just "day care." Except for old-fashioned nursery schools, which children attend for a few hours a day, two or three days a week, these programs are really euphemisms for babysitting.

This tax-funded-babysitting lobby was out in full force this summer as several Oklahomans—professional "child advocates," representatives of the daycare lobby, educators and bureaucrats, and so on—gathered on August 18 in Oklahoma City to consider policy recommendations of the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness (OPSR).

Now it's important to bear in mind that in 2010 Oklahoma spent $1.5 billion (billion with a b) on children from birth to five, according to the director of the liberal Oklahoma Policy Institute. This includes $447 million for "early education" and $128 million for "parenting education, child care, and family support." But for the left, of course, it's never enough. They want more of your money for more government intervention in the lives of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

When considering this push for an ever-expanding nanny state, "it is hard not to suspect the distorting influence of self-interest," as Bryce Christensen once observed. After all, said Dr. Christensen, author of Divided We Fall: Family Discord and the Fracturing of America, "mothers who stay at home with their children do not create new opportunities for educators or bureaucrats or lobbyists. Those opportunities open up only by persuading parents to turn their children over to surrogates while opening up their tax checkbooks to pay other people’s salaries."

Now what’s interesting—bizarre, actually—about the OPSR meeting is that of the 55 people there to discuss policy recommendations, 53 of them were women. (Where are the "gender equity" advocates when you need them?) But make no mistake, these 53 women hold views which are not consistent with the views of most Oklahoma women.

Indeed, the very afternoon of the OPSR meeting, the respected firm SoonerPoll released the results of a new survey. "Now thinking about early-childhood policies in Oklahoma," SoonerPoll said in one question, "do you think state government should focus more on creating and expanding programs for children from birth to age five, or making it easier and more affordable for one parent to stay at home with children from birth to age five?"

Only 26 percent of respondents said programs, while 57 percent said parents. Among women, the margin was 30 percent to 56 percent. Deliciously, among women with household income under $35,000, the margin was 29 percent to 57 percent. In other words, the 53 salaried women at the OPSR meeting can’t even win the very demographic they profess to care about the most.

Let’s look at another SoonerPoll question: "In two important ways, Oklahoma is a national leader in early childhood education. First, among all the states Oklahoma has the highest percentage of four-year-olds in state-funded preschool programs. Secondly, Oklahoma is one of the few states that offer a tax break for stay-at-home parents. Assuming there is a limited amount of money, which of the following do you think should take precedence: Increasing the amount of money spent on preschool programs for four-year-olds, or expanding the tax break for parents who stay at home with their four-year-olds?"

Now one would think preschool would prevail here. After all, Oklahoma parents signing little Johnny up for preschool or kindergarten routinely blurt out to reporters how much money they’ll be saving in daycare costs. And as George Bernard Shaw taught us, "a government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."

But it turns out Oklahoma parents would prefer the tax break, and by a margin of 55 percent to 31 percent. Among women, the margin was 51 percent to 35 percent. Among women with household income under $35,000, the margin was 55 percent to 29 percent.

Gov. Mary Fallin and the legislature should make it more affordable for Oklahoma women to stay home if they choose. Rather than a mere tax break, let's eliminate the income tax altogether. The feminists won't like it, but the majority of Oklahoma women will.

[UPDATE: It's interesting to note that liberals matter-of-factly acknowledge that public schools "provide not just education, but basic child care" and are "a reliable source of child care." The Oklahoman ("Education & careers" supplement, April 29, 2012) avers that Oklahoma is "the leader in early childcare education." It's small wonder the career-advice counselor Penelope Trunk says "the U.S. school system is really just the biggest babysitting institution in the world."

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