Governor Bill Haslam says he isn’t ready to cut back on the state’s pre-kindergarten education effort, even if a fellow Republican is ready to label the program a “hoax.”
Knoxville Representative Bill Dunn, a long-time critic of the state’s fledgling pre-K program, says a new state report indicates the program is “gobbling up and wasting valuable resources.” He said Pre-K may be “the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the people of Tennessee.”
But Governor Haslam says the recently completed report from the state Comptroller’s office is “a little bit of a mixed message.” He notes that it calls for further study.
“We’re not going to have any additional money to put in, probably, next year, for Pre-K, anyway, so my suggestion would be that about a year from now, when we have a little bit more data, let’s get a great survey, track that, and then make some decisions off of it.”
The governor says he wants more targeted data, taken by an “objective” outside group tracking students over a longer period of time.
The state’s Pre-K program started in only a few counties in 2005 but reached 94 counties by the fall of 2009. Those students are now going into the second grade.
In his comments, the governor also cited a previous study by Vanderbilt University which he said gave “a more positive spin” to the Pre-K effort.
Education professionals say there is no uniform statewide achievement testing until third grade, so the students affected by the relatively new Pre-K program won’t be properly evaluated for several years.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel’s Capitol Hill reporter, Tom Humphrey, posted this story about Representative Bill Dunn’s criticism of the Pre-K program. Dunn cited a line from page 6 of the report which states that any benefit from pre-K appears to go away in grades 3-5. Humphrey points out that what the report says is that the program should continue, receive additional support and include intervention to help sustain early academic growth by the Pre-K students.
This short history of the program and of the study is the Comptroller’s web page introduction to the report.
The State of Tennessee has funded early childhood education since the 1990s. Legislation enacted in 1996 permitted the creation of pilot early childhood and Pre-Kindergarten programs for economically disadvantaged three- and four-year-olds. In the 1998-1999 school year, 30 Pilot Pre-K classrooms were created, serving approximately 600 students. In 2005, the Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Act was passed, increasing the state’s investment in Early Childhood Education and access for four-year-olds. Approximately 300 new Pre-Kindergarten classrooms for at-risk four-year-olds were created—effectively tripling the number of students served. In the 2008-2009 school year, the program had grown to over 934 classrooms, serving approximately 18,000 children. In 2007, the Tennessee Office of the Comptroller contracted Strategic Research Group (SRG) to conduct a study to investigate the short- and long-term effects of state-funded Pre-Kindergarten participation on academic outcomes in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade through an examination of existing school records (i.e., secondary data). The evaluation was structured to take place over a multi-year timeframe and in a series of reporting stages. This is the final report in the series.
The state’s Pre-K program is voluntary, open for parents who wish to place their children in a pre-kindergarten classroom. The program was originally funded with money from the state lottery. Now, it is paid for with money from the state’s General Fund.