The legislature’s loudest critic of pre-K is pointing to a recent study as reason to reject suggestions of expanding the program statewide.
Vanderbilt University’s study released this month shows that initial gains by pre-K students over their peers who did not attend school under the program had diminished by the end of their kindergarten year or by first grade, and the gains were no longer statistically significant.
“If you do a cost-benefit analysis on this extremely expensive program, you will come to the conclusion that it is like paying $1,000 for a McDonald’s hamburger,” said Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) a staunch critic of the program. “It may make an initial dent on your hunger, but it doesn’t last long and you soon realize you could have done a lot more with the money spent.”
Dunn said he wants to see the state shift resources currently spent on pre-K elsewhere, like “having a great teacher in front of every classroom.” Dunn stopped short of saying those dollars should be used to increase teacher pay and said he was not prepared to specifically propose how those dollars should be spent.
The state’s pre-K program is geared toward low-income students. Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will rely on the results on the Vanderbilt study to help him decide whether to expand the program. On the federal level, President Barack Obama is proposing a “Preschool for All” program and is offering nearly $65 million to Tennessee to run the program if the state kicks in about $6.5 million.
“The governor continues to look forward to the final results of the long-term study” which are expected next year, said Dave Smith, the governor’s spokesman. “Until we know more about the effectiveness of pre-K in Tennessee, he will maintain funding at its current levels.”