What is the role of government? That is the question we should be asking whenever a program is proposed Too often we only ask if the program is efficient. Or if it too expensive. Or whether it will work. Seldom do we hear a politician or the media ask: “Well that is a really nice thing to have happen, but it really isn’t the role of government to be involved?”
The debate over government-funded preschool is a good example.
President Obama suggested in his State of the Union address that the federal government should provide all low and moderate income four-year old children with preschool — and expand the existing preschool programs for middle income children. This led to a public discussion about the effectiveness of the current program, Head Start.
Those opposed to government expansion into preschool cited research that shows any positive effects of the federal Head Start program are gone by the time a child reaches third grade. Those in favor cite studies showing some ways of conducting preschool do improve academic performance. Yet few, if any, politicians or media personalities asked the simple question: Is it the role of the federal government to be involved in preschool education to start with?
The 10th Amendment was a response to those who opposed the Bill of Rights because putting in specific constraints on Congress might imply that Congress had all powers not specifically denied to it. The 10th amendment makes it clear that the federal government only has enumerated powers, to wit:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
That is, if you do not find written in the Constitution that the federal government has the power to do something, then that power remains with the states. Search all you want in Article I, Section 8 (which provides for the powers of Congress), but you will not find that Washington has the power to provide preschool education to the citizens.
State or individual governments may provide preschool, but the federal government has no such power. The failure of anyone to ask if it is the proper role of the federal government to be involved in educating my four-year old is a sign as to how far we are removed from the limited government that the Founders left us with.
Indeed, after the president’s speech some argued that it did not go far enough. The crucial time for intellectual development is near birth, it was said, and our government should not leave this important period to parents. We also expect the federal government to provide health care until our funeral. It may not be long before funeral services will be courtesy of Uncle Sam.
We have become a nation that expects to be taken care of by the federal government from cradle to grave — regardless of what the Constitution says.