The Economic Rationale for Investing in Children: A Focus on Child Care. Rationale for Government Role in Education

12/01/2001

The various levels and branches of governments have played quite active roles in the financing, attendance patterns, content, and other aspects of education in the United States. States mandate the minimum age at which children may drop out, the maximum age by which students must begin attending school, the number of days students must attend school per year, and a variety of requirements and regulations that must be met by schools and teachers. States also provide a substantial portion of education funding, though there exists wide variation from state to state. While playing a less active role, the federal government has promoted school integration and appropriate education for students with disabilities through both legislation and court decisions. It has devoted resources to the education of disadvantaged children. Finally, local jurisdictions not only provide much of the funding, but they also have the primary governance responsibilities over elementary and secondary education.

Constitutional provisions form the basis for much of the state and federal government actions with regards to education. The Supreme Court ruling striking down the tenet of separate but equal as it applies to education (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954), court imposed school finance reform based on state constitutional guarantees of an adequate schooling, and a number of other interventions emanate from constitutional protections(1). Rather than exploring the details of these constitutional issues and their applications to K thru 12 schooling, this paper focuses on the more abstract economic arguments regarding the appropriate roles of government in the education sector. These include the by now standard issues of market failure, distribution and protection of minors(2). Subsequently, there is discussion of their relevance to childcare and preschool.