5 Dumbest Right-Wing Freak-Outs Over Obama's Preschool Plan

President Obama travelled to Atlanta this week to push his plan for universal early education, revealed during his State of the Union address. The proposal received great fanfare, and for good reason. The White House pointed out that at-risk kids who don’t go to preschool are:

  • 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
  • 60 percent more likely not to attend college
  • 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime

Meanwhile, economists agree that children who have access to preschool have better chances of upward mobility. A recent study found that Chicago’s preschool program provided up to “$11 of economic benefits over a child’s lifetime for every dollar spent initially on the program.”

But the right wing isn’t having it. Here are five of the stupidest arguments the Right has trotted out.

1. Fox’s Steve Varney: Obama proposed universal preschool so today’s 4-year-olds will vote for him "in the future."

Fox Business host Steve Varney said Obama's preschool plan is another example of the president offering “all kinds of free stuff to the people who will vote for you in the future.” Varney’s claim channels Mitt Romney’s racially charged “gifts” explanation for Obama’s reelection. (It’s unclear what office Obama will seek after he completes his second term in the White House.)

“Free preschool education for 4-year-olds, it’s free, here it is,” Varney said. “Hand out the goodies.”

Varney’s rhetoric not only perpetuates the false, ugly stereotype of the freeloading minority, but also completely overlooks the larger societal benefits of this particular “goody.” As Think Progress reports, preschool “substantially reduces the likelihood that a child will later drop out of high school, become a teen parent, or be arrested for a violent crime.”

2. Rep. Marsha Blackburn: Universal preschool will require “more paperwork.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) argued against Obama’s preschool plan, saying the extra paperwork would be too much of a burden on teachers. She appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to wage war against preschool:

"You know, I had an email from a teacher as [Obama] was giving the speech, someone I’ve known for a long time and it was, ‘Are you kidding me? More paperwork?’"

Blackburn’s apparent sympathy for teachers would be easier to believe if she didn’t receive an F from the National Education Association on “public education teaching profession issues.”

3. Fox’s Gerri Willis: Universal preschool is “immoral.”

On Sunday, Fox Business host Gerri Willis said spending money on a program that will reduce high school dropout rates and teen pregnancies is “immoral.” Willis elaborated:

“Preschool for everyone, are you kidding me? We don’t have the money for that! … This is just crazy talk and I think it’s immoral to put this across as something that’s actually doable, when it’s not.” 

Willis’ argument follows the mainstream Republican line against universal preschool: that we can’t afford it. But, as the New York Times editorial staff pointed out, research suggests investing in preschool has long-term fiscal benefits. The editorial cites a study conducted by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, which found that each dollar invested in pre-K education returned “a value of $7 to $12 to society.”

4. Joy Pullman for the Daily Caller: Preschool undermines traditional family values — just look at Sweden!

In what reads like a parody of conservative talking points, the Daily Caller published a preschool takedown arguing for stronger families, criticizing the “nanny state” and demonizing a progressive, European country.

In her piece, the Heartland Institute’s Joy Pullman cites a study from a Swedish “family-policy” think tank “linking the country’s early childhood policies to a litany of evils: anxiety disorders, health problems, social neuroses, drops in learning, discipline problems, segregated labor markets, and more.”

Pullman fails to mention other studies that link such “evils” to Sweden’s recent social safety net cuts, never mind the aforementioned studies that reveal preschool’s litany of long-term benefits.

Pullman continues, arguing that preschool deprives children of quality family time:

“The best habitat for small children is a home with a married mother and father, where grownups read the babies lots of books and keep them away from computers and TVs.”

5. John Boehner: Getting the federal government involved with early education is “a good way to screw it up.”

After the State of the Union, the House speaker immediately dismissed Obama’s proposal as another example of big government. Boehner says Obama’s plan will “screw up” early education, despite the fact that it uses Heckman’s research, conducted by Chicago-school conservative economists.

The Nation’s Rick Perlstein deconstructs the partisan logic behind the quick “preschool backlash”:

“The hand of fellowship extended, there to be smacked away with extreme prejudice by Republicans for whom fellowship is inconceivable, whatever the Nobel Prize-winning ‘research’ might say.”

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