Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
Sarah BrodskyLessons From the Parents as Teachers Cuts
Posted at 8:25 am on April 23, 2010, by Sarah Brodsky

The State of Missouri has cut funding to its Parents as Teachers program. I hope the drop in funding will redirect Parents as Teachers to focus on people who need the most help.

Maybe I’m not a pure libertarian, but I’m actually not opposed to government programs that give poor people free stuff or try to improve the odds for children in bad situations. I’m even okay with limited home-visiting programs, as long as they’re voluntary (and Parents as Teachers is) and as long as there’s no better way to provide the services.

But Parents as Teachers, as it’s currently run here in Missouri, goes way beyond intervening with at-risk children. The program accepts children from wealthy homes; in some participating families, the parents are pediatricians. Parents as Teachers provides the same costly home-visiting services to people who own two cars and drive their kids to gymnastics every day as it does to people who don’t have transportation and really do need someone to come to their house.

Parents as Teachers also conducts research activities that do nothing to help the kids now enrolled in the program. For example, this blog post written by a participant mentions the questions Parents as Teachers asked her for a study about autism. Of course, there’s a need for research, but it’s not clear that it should be conducted by this publicly-funded program. For one thing, there are benefits to specialization; some programs concentrate on research, while others teach parents and distribute children’s books. Most programs can’t do both well. It’s also questionable whether research should be tied to programs that ostensibly support vulnerable people, opening up the possibility that participants will feel pressured to go along with the research because they want to continue receiving services.

Parents as Teachers should learn from the funding cuts that taxpayers won’t help it do everything for everyone. The program should target people who most need help–either through geographic boundaries, like the Harlem Children’s Zone or Kansas City’s Zone 27, or through income limits. It could also seek out more private donations, or charge wealthy participants for some services.


Filed under: Child Policy, Government Spending, Nanny State
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Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson
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