April 11, 2002

Editorial: Some D.C. Council Members Want Compulsory Pre-School

By J. Michael Smith
President of the Home School Legal Defense Association

Just when we thought that communism was dying, it has been resurrected in Washington, D.C. The chief tenet of communism is that the government should control everything, including child rearing, because the government knows best.

Bill 14-261 introduced last June by D.C. Council Member Kevin P. Chavous, requires all children who turn three before December 31st of an academic school year, to enroll in a pre-school program in public, private or parochial school. This would be laughable but for the fact that the bill has the support of seven council members, the D.C. school superintendent and mayor. If this bill passes, not only would three year olds be required to attend school, but also children who are only two years and eight months old at the end of August would have to begin school in September.

In some ways, this effort is not surprising. Washington, D.C. already enforces the lowest compulsory attendance age in America. Despite all this emphasis on early education in D.C., it hasn’t worked. District of Columbia students have the worst standardized test scores in the nation. This bill reflects a mindset that says government knows best. It reflects a lack of trust in parents heretofore only seen behind the iron curtain.

Most two and three year olds are unable to be educated in the sense that they cannot read, write or compute. This Bill 14-261 turns compulsory education into compulsory daycare. In other words, D.C. would mandate the government substitute itself for the parents when a child reaches two years and eight months of age. We know from experience that it is impossible for public school institutions to supervise children in daycare closely enough to prevent the development of destructive and anti-social habits. Therefore, rather than being a positive experience for children, this has the potential to be the most destructive “education” idea ever conceived.

United States Department of Health and Human Services research has concluded that in the long run, test scores of former Head Start students (a government sponsored preschool) do not remain superior to those disadvantaged students who do not attend Head Start.

Therefore, the only individuals that would benefit by the bill would be the thousands of new daycare workers that would have to be hired to try to control the children. It is estimated that it would cost over fifty million dollars to implement this program. No wonder the NEA is such a strong supporter of this idea. It would have thousands of more union members paying union dues in the form of daycare teachers.

And just how will the District of Columbia handle transportation for these toddlers? If the District buses children to and from school, which is likely, the buses must be equipped with infant seats as no motor vehicle operator in the District may transport a child under three without child restraint seats.

Aside from being nonsensical, this bill is clearly unconstitutional. Bill 14-261 changes the nature of how Americans view schools and education. Compulsory attendance statutes have been upheld by the courts as constitutional, but the presupposition has been that children are ready to be educated at the age they are compelled to attend. The courts have said that it is a legitimate interest of the State that our citizens be literate and self-sufficient. No court, however, has ever upheld compelling children to attend daycare, or preschool.

It would clearly violate a parent’s fundamental right to direct the upbringing and the education of their child to compel the removal from the home to attend preschool. In Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), the US Supreme Court said that the interest of parents in the care, custody and control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by the court. When the state of Oregon compelled all children to attend public school, in the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law indicating that children were not a mere creature of the state. Any compulsory attendance law that compels children to attend school in diapers, would be struck down in a heartbeat.

The only constitutional argument that can be made to remove two and three year olds from their parents home against the parents’ will, is if there is evidence that the child is at risk of harm and the parents are found to be unfit after a due process hearing. The District already has the authority under current law to remove children from homes pursuant to the process.

Clearly Bill 14-261 attempts to change the purpose of compulsory attendance from formal education, to preparing for formal education. That being the case, what would stop the District of Columbia from passing a bill that takes the baby from the hospital, since preparing for education begins with the child’s first breath? Unthinkable? Not many years ago, parents would have responded to the idea of compelling two and three year olds to attend school as “unthinkable.”

What will stop this insanity? Our Constitution! Thank God we still have one that recognizes that there are certain inalienable rights that come from our Creator, not the State. The proper role of the D.C. government under our system of government is to protect that fundamental right, not take it away.