Governor Could Face Skepticism Over Pre-K Expansion

Some Republican lawmakers could push back against Governor Bill Haslam over expanding pre-kindergarten education. Haslam said earlier this week he’ll look at adding to the program if more state tax dollars keep rolling in.

Right now Tennessee’s pre-k program focuses on disadvantaged students – those who can get free or reduced-price lunch. The program costs around $85 million a year, enrolling some 18,000 kids.

Knoxville Representative Bill Dunn has been a longtime critic of expanding pre-k, once calling it a “hoax.” Dunn argues it doesn’t do enough for the cost:

“If we spend a half a billion dollars on four-year-olds and we don’t see any benefit from it, once we start doing that, that’s a half a billion dollars that we can’t give raises to teachers, or we can’t make sure that other courses are taught.”

Dunn points to research from the state comptroller’s office showing whatever gains students make in pre-k tend to wear off by around third grade. But the comptroller’s study last year also says the program does what it’s supposed to, which is get kids ready for kindergarten.

From page six of the study:

“The results of the analyses of long-term effects (i.e., Grades 3-5) find that the differences between Pre-K students and non-Pre-K students are negligible, particularly when examining assessment outcomes for students who experienced economic disadvantage…
“Despite the limitations of this study, however, the overall conclusions to be drawn from this series of reports and the cumulative analyses presented in this final report have been consistent: students who participate in Pre-K reliably show better outcomes on Kindergarten assessments than students who do not participate in the Pre-K program. These results provide evidence that the objective of Tennessee’s Pre-K program – school readiness – is being met.”

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