Kaniacs Need to Polish their Universal Pre-K Elevator Speech

Tom Morris, the secretary of education, has hit the road to build support for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s universal pre-k child care proposal. In a public forum in Charlottesville city hall, Morris noted that the state has provided a preschool program exclusively for at-risk 4-year-olds since 1995. It has been difficult, however, for the Virginia Preschool Initiative to reach all at-risk children, he said.

As the Daily Progress reports in its coverage of the forum, Kathy Glazer, the director of Kaine’s working group on early childhood initiatives, elaborated: “Those dollars were not fully utilized because there were some barriers that were in place.”

It’s not totally clear from the context of the article what those “barriers” were. However, the Daily Progress quoted Morris as saying that more community groups and business leaders would support an all-inclusive 4-year-old plan. “Public programs for just at-risk students don’t have the broader constituency of support as one that includes all children.”

That may be what Morris said, but that’s not what the debate is about. The Kaine administration message just isn’t getting through. I can’t tell if that’s because the Kaniacs are not articulating it well or if reporters are just failing to follow their logic. But here’s what I picked up from a two-minute chat with Morris at a recent Virginia FREE function:

Yes, Virginia does provide support pre-k programs for “at risk” children, but the problem is bigger than that. Thousands of children of working-class and middle-class households are showing up at kindergarden unprepared as well. With private pre-school tuitions averaging $7,000 a year (a point that was noted in the story), many middle-class parents can’t afford pre-k. It’s in society’s interest to make sure that their children, too, are well prepared for school. It costs far more to provide remedial education and to deal with the consequences of high school drop-outs than it would to make pre-k universal.

Now, I am skeptical that expanding the reach and scope of government is going to do much to address the problems that Morris cited — especially when it entails spending another $300 million a year, which must be extacted from the very same overextended working/middle class taxpayers. But I don’t mind having the debate. The Kaine administration is raising a legitimate issue, and I would like to see the Kaniacs make the very best argument they can. At this point, however, either the argument isn’t being made properly or it’s not making it through the media filter. The cogent points that Morris articulated in a short private conversation with me have yet to enter the public domain.

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3 responses to “Kaniacs Need to Polish their Universal Pre-K Elevator Speech”

  1. hrconservative Avatar

    I don’t agree with this “pre-K” program at all!.

    Dropouts you will have with you always, pre-K or no pre-K. Teaching children at 3 and4 will not stop dropouts, or really even curb the number of them.

    There is private tuition for those that just must send their children to pre_k. For those that can’t afford it, the taxpayers should not have to pay for that. So much is spent in the name of “education,” but this is seriously wasteful and unnecessary

  2. I also think this is a good topic of debate, but will have to sit across the fence from our Governor.

    The issue of children being unprepared in kindergarten is naturally important, but to try to cite it as the reason students are performing much lower than other students across the globe later in their schooling is a fallacy. They policy analysts are confusing a correlation with a causal relationship. I recently cited Finland’s education system (considered the best/one of the best in such surveys) on OMT, and will do so here. They do not begin their schooling until age seven, with optional pre-k. At this age, they are oftentimes behind their global peers across the board, but this quickly changes through the rising grades. Coversely in America, while our students are near or above the average baseline of proficiency, we quickly lose that advantage and suffer much higher rates of drop-outs and less knowledge retainment.

    The issue is that our public education system is treated as a business, where efficiency is best achieved through a streamlined production process. While this is effective in allowing policy analysts to compare performance on a school-by-school basis, it also ties the hands of the local school systems and teachers, resulting in a universal approach to something that is very personal (i.e. how to instill a passion for learning).

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I’ve been paying for 4 children in varying stages of preschool for the past 11 years at a great private preschool. It costs $100 to $200 a month (varies for a 2, 3 or 5 day program depending on the child’s age) from Sept to May. So I’ve paid $900-$1800 a year. All private preschool programs in the Northern Virginia area are comparable. Where the heck did they get the $7000 number?

    Although I don’t have a problem for programs that help at risk kids, I do not want my tax dollars paying for preschool for people (like me) who are entirely capable of paying for it ourselves. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars and once the public school and the government got their hands on it, they’d probably manage to make mess of preschool too.

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