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Universal preschool?: A Finnish option

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Friday, May 16, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

Finland offers an alternative to squandering $75 billion on “universal” pre-kindergarten as President Obama advocates — one featuring parental involvement that contrasts sharply with Head Start, the failed federal baby-sitting service he essentially wants to expand.

Writing for the PJ Media website, retired teacher Inge Kummant says Finland's “open kindergarten” serves “the birth-through-age-five crowd and their parents.” It's “low-cost, local, flexible and does appear to help prepare kids for school” — unlike Head Start, whose positive effects don't last.

Municipal governments and the Lutheran church both sponsor Finland's open kindergartens, and many families attend both. Trained teachers provide individual attention and lead stories, songs, games and crafts. Parents participate with children, provide snacks and pay about $100 per semester. Families are limited to one weekly session due to demand.

Open kindergarten surely benefits from Finland paying child-care allowances to stay-at-home parents for three years and requiring three years of employer-provided parental leave. But unlike big-government Head Start, which supplants parents, open kindergarten involves them.

Ms. Kummant asks: “Maybe the open kindergarten model offers another way for American churches, libraries, private schools and other nonprofits to reach and support families with young children?” It's a worthwhile question that liberal “universal pre-K” advocates should address before compounding Head Start's failure.

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