Solutions for the Start and Finish of a Student’s Educational Career


September 3, 2014 9:15AM

Guard your children, because the federal government is here to help at both ends of students’ education careers. As this blog diligently explains, Washington managed to drive up the cost of higher education by, among other things, backing 93 percent of college loans (why should a college cut costs when Uncle Sam is picking up the tab?). Soaring tuition prevents some students from entering postsecondary institutions while others are forced to pay back loans for years after graduation. On the other end of a child’s educational career sits preschool, which the feds also managed to bungle. Head Start costs taxpayers $8 billion per year, and in what Education Week called “the most ambitious study to date” of Head Start’s results, students did not show academic gains. As The Wall Street Journal reported in 2013, “By third grade, you can’t tell Head Start alumni from their non-Head Start peers.” In a long-overdue reform of the program, the federal government is requiring Head Start centers to compete for their funding. However, early returns on the grant process have not changed the composition of Head Start centers—only 8 new providers were approved in the first round of grant awards (there are a total of 1,700 Head Start centers around the country). Allowing parents more flexibility over preschool decisions would help young children. Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Brookings Institution scholar and former head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, says Washington should give parents grants to help them choose a preschool, much like parents of students in K-12 use vouchers to pay for private school. Vouchers are not the only alternative, though. Families in Arizona and Florida can use education savings accounts to find online classes, pay private school tuition and for personal tutors, and save for college, to name a few possible uses. Last year, Arizona lawmakers expanded education savings accounts so that parents of students with special needs can use an education savings account for preschool expenses. Parents can pay tuition costs and for any other educational or educational therapy services a child may need before heading off to elementary school. While federal policies fail to help students in preschool or college (and do little to improve prospects in between), education savings accounts give parents high-quality options for both. -Jonathan Butcher