Kaine to Unveil Scaled Down Pre-K Initiative

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will roll out his pre-K education program at an education summit today. Instead of making it universal, a proposal that could cost $300 million a year (or way more, depending on whom you believe; see “Universal Pre-K: $300 Million a Year or $850 Million a Year?”), he will settle for an expansion of the Virginia Preschool Initiative, reports Christina Nuckols with the Virginian-Pilot.

Kaine’s revised proposal would increase the number of children from low-income households eligible for the program from 17,500 to 30,000, at a cost of roughly $75 million a year by 2012.

Kaine’s move is a shrewd one. First, by downscaling his plan, the Governor shows that he is cognizant of the budget difficulties Virginia will face in the next two-year budget; $75 million looks like chump change compared to the $300 million that he had been talking about. Second, the money will be concentrated on children — low-income, at risk — whom studies show will get the most benefit from pre-schooling. In other words, he’s focusing funds where he can get the most bang for the buck.

Dueling experts will debate the efficacy of pre-K. Kaine will roll out his experts, including a Nobel prize-winning economist, to argue that the money will be well spent. Opponents will roll out their experts showing that the positive effects last only a few years. In all likelihood, the debate will be inconclusive. The outcome will be decided by politics, not the evidence.

I’d ask only one thing: If the General Assembly passes this legislation, set up a mechanism to track the performance of children enrolled in the program through high school, at the very least. Let’s demonstrate definitively that the program either does or does not generate the positive Return on Investment — higher academic performance, lower drop-out rates, fewer kids convicted of crimes, less welfare dependency, etc. — that proponents claim it will. Let’s not come back in 15 years and have the same debate in the absence of authoritative data to settle it.

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7 responses to “Kaine to Unveil Scaled Down Pre-K Initiative”

  1. Groveton Avatar

    Let’s also ask where the low income, at children live and what the state and local ooliticans are doing (beyond the pre-K program) to reduce the number of low income at risk children.

    Fundamentally, being poor creates a lot of problems for poor families and their children. I guess that’s kind of obvious. The more money you have, the more you can aford to spend on your children’s education. And more educated children generally fare better than less educated children.

    However, what’s not clear to me is whether this is an economic development program using pre-K funding as a method of economic improvement or another part of the institutional transfer of wealth occurring throughout the United States. And that question really can’t be answered by looking at any individual program.

    It seems to me that the locations of poor people who have “at risk” children are more or less the same as they were when President Johnson delcared his “War on Poverty”. Many billions of dollars later these places are still poor and the children are still at risk. Now we have another “point solution” that’s going to help solve the problem.

    Whatever became of the many, many prior “point solutions” that were supposed to solve this problem?

    Where is the comprehensive plan to create enough wealth in Virginia’s poor communities so that we eventually get to a point where there are no more poor families having children which, by definition, are born “at risk”?

    I agree with Mr. Bacon’s desire to measure the efficacy of the $75M per year of “chump change” proposed for this program. However, I’d add a call for an examination of prior programs to fight poverty.

    Economic growth and wealth creation is a viable long term approach. An institutionalized program of wealth transfer to a permanent economic underclass is not.

    Which is this?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Pre–K education is not re-distribution of wealth, it will eventually result in the creation of wealth.

    For the first time we have a real opportunity to overcome the circumstances that prevent people from learning the skills that create independence and wealth.

    It is truly teaching people to fish…

  3. Groveton Avatar

    Anon 10:26 –

    I hope you are right. However, I’ve heard that we’ve been spending money to teach people to fish since the Great Society.

    Where’s all the fish?

  4. Brian Kirwin Avatar
    Brian Kirwin

    Jim, you’re willing to fund something to the tune of $2500 per child and find out 20 years from now if it was a success?

    We could buy every at-risk child a laptap and internet access and open the world to them for that money.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    “Where is the comprehensive plan to create enough wealth in Virginia’s poor communities so that we eventually get to a point where there are no more poor families having children which, by definition, are born “at risk”?”

    As long as the US continues to import poverty from abroad, we cannot possibly create enough wealth in our poorer communities to solve the problem of children living in poverty. The children that you help over several years with good resources are constantly being replaced by children in exactly the same economic circumstances that the first children started out in.

    It may well be impossible to eiminate poverty completely in the US – or anywhere else, but we can at least stop adding to it. The world has an unlimited supply of poverty and annually the US takes in more of it than the rest of the world combined. As long as this continues, we can never expect to make much progress in reaching the goal of no more “at risk” children because there will be a constant supply.

    Deena Flinchum

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Brian, I have repeatedly expressed reservations about the universal pre-K plan. My only point was this: If legislators decide to fund the program, they need to measure the effectiveness of it. Otherwise, we’ll be having the same debate 10 years from now. If the numbers show a real return on investment for taxpayers, well, I guess I’d go along. If it doesn’t, then we’ll have the ammo we need to eliminate the program.

    We need to measure the effectiveness of government programs. Otherwise they perpetuate themselves forever.

  7. Let’s look for a moment at the last initiative to improve education for the ‘at risk’children age 5 and under. Operation Head Start costs taxpayers over 6 Billion dollars a year and is 38 years old.
    Just now they are engaging, or so it is said, in a 28 million dollar research project to determine whether the program prepares kids for school. !!!
    The last time there was any study of efficacy was reported in 1969 by the New York Times…”the most comprehensive study ever made of the Head Start programs asserts that children were not appreciably better off.”
    I would assert that that statement is still true. We don’t need a 28 million dollar study to tell us that none of the benchmarks of success have been met,nor have they ever been…in fact the situation is probably worse on many levels. All this money…and no accountability. Please, not again.
    Furthermore, the same 4-year-olds are the targeted audience…so does that mean money will be subtracted from Head Start’s budget? Laugh out loud.
    Do 4-year-olds need preschool these days? Of course. But is this the best way to do it? I don’t think so..just another tax money black hole.
    Learning starts at birth, society in general cannot substitute for parental responsibility.

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