Education is very important to me-both personally and because I know it is important to my constituents as well. Making education the best it can be will take more than just funding.
Many people live by the theory that if you throw money at a problem or create another program, the problem will be solved-or improved.
Efficiency is important-in other words, where will get the most bang for the taxpayer buck so to speak.
Education spending raises questions. Where do we get the money? How much will the program cost long term? Short term? Is there a continuous source for the funding? If not, where will it come from later? Where should we allocate funding for the best results? We will be able to see results? How will we measure them? Is this the best investment of precious tax dollars? How has this worked elsewhere?
These are all questions I have asked about the Pre-K plan, and some answers vary depending on whom you ask and what their own goals are. I even asked the Governor's staff how this program is different from ideas proposed and passed by Lamar Alexander 20 years ago-but received no answer.
I have not made up my mind yet, but the facts so far are pushing me in one direction. There are amendments and facts to be put forward that may change my opinion-but at this point we will have to wait and see.
This pre-k plan is currently optional and will be initially funded by the lottery with a local buy in.
Here are some of the things I have learned:
Our states greatest weakness is in 8-12th grade. We don't graduate as many as we should, and those that do, don't go to college. The original goal of the lottery was to increase the number of students getting a college education.
I think before we start spending excess money, we should fully fund existing programs. Our K-4 students score the highest internationally. Once we get to 4-8, we have a drop off. Grades 8-12 drops off even more. Pre-K testing from other areas has had mixed results-some say no noticeable differences after grade 2, some say no difference after grade 4.
The Georgia model that is similar to ours reveals no noticeable difference at all. They have had this program for 10 years and spent over a billion dollars. (Please see the Georgia results in Drew Johnson's Policy Study on the Pre-K program. You can download or view this study at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research at www.tennesseepolicy.org)
I have heard statements made frequently about one study that showed “every $1.00 invested returns $7.00.” The Governor often quotes this statement. Unfortunately, the program is not at all like the one being proposed, nor has it been duplicated by anyone.
Many representatives wanted to discuss some of these questions and facts, and therefore held a press conference to openly discuss and address the issues and questions. The Governor and/or his office were invited to attend. But guess what? He did not appear and not one staff member showed up.
This is not an isolated incidence. Many representatives have questions. Since session began many have asked “how will children be tested?” “what will be considered a successful result?” etc.
The Governor's response? Silence.
Other areas of concern? The Governor reports an initial start up of 25 million from lottery money---an estimated 5,000 per child with voluntary enrollment.
But I have been told that amendments to keep this strictly voluntary have been killed. I will have to research this further for you.
The NEA wants this program in place ASAP. According to their own estimates, they predict a cost per child of 8,000-9,000 per child.
“Voluntary” tends to become mandatory (see teacher pay equalization suit) as soon as one person files a suit.
And while the Governor will initially use lottery money, he recommends tapping into the general fund in two years.
In two years it looks as if legislators will be faced with cutting other programs-such as after school programs, sports,higher ed, k-12 funding, etc. (It's happening in other states.)to pay for this program.
Or we will be faced with fighting the income tax again or another tax increase of sorts or both.
Will we end up cutting k-12 or make pre-K -12 make do with the same funding as k-12?
Many other questions are still unanswered. Crowding in schools? Schools will have 8 grades, instead of 7. Teacher shortages will only be worse-especially as pre-K requires a greater teacher to student ratio. Will teachers and resources be stretched even thinner?
Does this program sound good so far? More later…