A recent podcast on the BAM Radio Network showcases a debate between two experts with different perspectives on government's role in supporting early childhood education. What was striking, however, was that the two had very little disagreement over one key point -- that there is a need for public investment to improve families' access to and choices of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.
The podcast features Daniel Witte, who directs the Center for Educational Progress at the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank in Utah that favors a limited role for government and that emphasizes the importance of parents' responsibility for their children's education. Witte argued that the federal government should not play much of a role, leaving decisions to state and local governments instead. On the other side, listeners heard from W. Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Barnett is a vocal supporter of the need for the federal government to help states improve quality and access to preschool programs. (I was also on the show to provide some comments, primarily from the parent perspective.)
The segment doesn't provide much fodder for policy wonks who grapple with the question of how to balance federal, state and local investment and control of early education. But it does shine a light on how much the larger debate has shifted from simply asking whether the government should play a role to exactly what that role should look like.