Failure of Pre-K Proves Politics Come Before Kids

September 13, 2008 9:36PM

By Drew Johnson I hate to say it, but we told you so. Three years ago, Governor Phil Bredesen zealously pushed to expand Tennessee’s existing government pre-kindergarten program. The Governor hoped to turn a program serving a limited pool of low income, at-risk children, into a full-scale universal Parental Replacement Plan. At the time, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research warned against the idea. In a 2005 report, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research predicted the state’s Pre-K program would suffer from “fade out” effects – the rapid disappearance of Pre-K’s benefits after children leave the program – and would fail to produce long-term benefits for students. After all, every other large-scale government Pre-K scheme, including the Georgia program Tennessee used as a model, and the federal Head Start program, has fallen victim to fade out. Unfortunately, an independent study of Tennessee’s Pre-K program, reveals that the scheme is, indeed, failing parents, students and taxpayers. The taxpayer-funded report, performed by the Ohio-based Strategic Research Group, found that “by the Second Grade there was no statistically significant difference [in educational performance] attributable to Pre-K participation.” The initial gains in student achievement associated with Pre-K fade away within three years, leaving no lasting impact for students, according to the study. The failed Pre-K program has cost taxpayers more than $250 million. It has also cost children precious time that could have been used far more productively. Troublingly, Governor Bredesen knew the Pre-K scheme wouldn’t work before he ever proposed to inflate the program. When Tennessee’s Pre-K expansion was considered, over 300,000 children had attended the Georgia program on which Tennessee’s was based. Despite a cost of $1.15 billion to Georgia taxpayers, the Pre-K students’ test scores were no better than children of the same socioeconomic background who did not attend the program. This knowledge did not prevent Bredesen from using half-truths and impossible expectations to sell state legislators, the media and the public on Pre-K expansion. At the height of the Administration’s campaign of exaggerations and misinformation, they released a statistic stating that “every $1 invested in early learning returns $7 in societal and community benefits in the long run.” The figure was based on a discredited study of 56 at-risk children with “retarded intellectual functioning” conducted from 1962-1965. Oops. If the Administration and many state lawmakers knew government-controlled Pre-K wouldn’t help children in the classroom, and would cost taxpayers outrageous sums of money, why did the state government insist on getting in the business of raising, educating, babysitting and indoctrinating four-year-olds? Because Pre-K isn’t for the kids. It’s for the teachers’ union. Governor Bredesen and Pre-K advocates in the state legislature don’t care that the scheme doesn’t work. The state’s Pre-K expansion was designed as a jobs program to create more teaching positions eligible for membership in the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s teachers union. Pre-K is nothing more than a payback by politicians to the teachers’ union – a quid pro quo from the Governor and other lawmakers who have given the union more members in exchange for the union’s votes, campaign volunteers and political contributions. It may disturb parents, voters and taxpayers, but, hey, what’s a quarter-billion dollars of taxpayers’ money when state leaders can use four-year-old kids as political pawns to garner teachers’ union votes and campaign donations? ###