Lori Walsh let Speaker Steven Haugaard clutter the airwaves with his anti-child, anti-education, anti-woman, anti-family, anti-worker hyperbole against public preschool without much challenge yesterday. Speaker Haugaard didn’t scream “socialism” like he did during Session against the mere creation of a council to study and advise the state on preschool, but he repeatedly branded public preschool as an attempt to take over the role of parents.
Appealing to the state constitution, Speaker Haugaard claimed that the state has no legitimate role in offering any education to anyone beyond what is necessary to establish the “morality and intelligence” necessary to get people vote for republican representatives. Speaker Haugaard said he meant the lowercase version of republican, but we know he meant uppercase Republican, as shown by his expressed support for private religious preschools, which he must think will help indoctrinate children into his narrow WASP conservative worldview. Speaker Haugaard said that South Dakota’s constitutional justification for education precludes the state from funding preschool or any other level of education for workforce development, daycare, or any other purpose not related to teaching voters to cast ballots.
But let’s dig into Speaker Haugaard’s prooftexting of the state constitution. Read Article 8 Section 1, which he cites in defense of keeping South Dakota the only state in the Union that doesn’t fund preschool:
The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all; and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education [emphasis mine; SD Const. Art. 8 Sec. 1].
Speaker Haugaard derives his anti-preschool argument (and the entire complex of anti-public education, pro-privatization, and pro-Jesusification policies lurking beneath) from the bolded prefatory clause. Speaker Haugaard is asserting that the prefatory clause about republican government based on morality and intelligence (capitalize the r, and you get a laugh line) limits the operative clause, which directs the Legislature to create and fund public schools.
Justice Antonin Scalia would tell Speaker Haugaard that such an interpretation is dead wrong:
“The Amendment’s prefatory clause announced a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority [Christina Sterbenz, “How a Comma Gave Americans the Right to Own Guns,” Business Insider, 2013.08.12].
Justice Scalia was writing, of course, about the Supreme Court’s reading of the Second Amendment in Heller 2008. The Second Amendment follows the same grammatical structure as our education clause, prefatory clause, then operative clause:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
If Speaker Haugaard wants to ignore Justice Scalia and render prefatory clauses superior to operative clauses, he opens the door to my marching into Session and pointing out against every gun-nut bill that Governor Noem and the NRA will ask for that the state’s only legitimate role in promoting gun rights is in ensuring that citizens have guns so they can be impressed into military service to support the state.
Speaker Haugaard can have his keep-Ma-in-the-kitchen opposition to public preschool, or he can have his guns, but he can’t have both.
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On the empirical side, Speaker Haugaard also made great hay of a Health and Human Services study (this January 2010 HHS study, I think) that found head Start’s academic benefits for children fade out early in elementary school. Speaker Haugaard ignores the fact that Head Start still reduces the chances that kids will fall behind their peers. And while the academic fade-out effect is real, research shows preschool yields all sorts of long-term benefits that should bolster the Republic, if not the Republicans:
…there’s an equally substantive body of research suggesting that early childhood education produces a profound, lifelong advantage. Kids who enter intensive preschool programs are less likely to be arrested, more likely to graduate, and less likely to struggle with substance abuse as adults. One study with a followup when the students were in their mid-30s found that they were likelier to have eventually attended and completed college.
…[the Abecedarian Project] found students in the intervention program did amazingly better than the control group — including being four times likelier to graduate from college, five times less likely to have been on public assistance, significantly reduced chances of being arrested or charged with a crime, and significant improvements in adult math and reading ability.
…the Brookings Institution tried to compare kids who attended Head Start with their siblings who didn’t, and found long-term effects on graduation rates, college attendance, and adulthood self-control and self-esteem. They even found that Head Start improved parenting practices for the next generation.
A different analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research used a regression discontinuity design — exploiting the fact that Head Start was provided to the poorest counties but was not provided to some nearly identical counties just over the income threshold. They found effects from Head Start on child mortality, graduation rates, and college attendance [Kelsey Piper, “Early Childhood Education Yields Big Benefits—Just Not the Ones You Think,” Vox, 2018.10.16].
Fewer arrests, more self-control, less substance abuse, less child mortality—hmm… if keeping people out of jail, addiction, and death sure boosts their ability to watch debates and cast votes for republican representatives… not to mention raise kids and pursue happiness.
Speaker Haugaard takes a narrow view of both the state constitution and academic progress to justify his argument against helping working parents give their kids safe and productive learning and social experiences throughout the day. His ideology leads him to resist public preschool, a genuine pro-child and pro-family policy.