It may be a new concept to most folks, but I’ve got a long history with the Pre-K program. While I was serving in the Senate during my first term in the early 90’s, I remember a bill coming through that proposed to “study” a Pre-K program for at risk 4 year olds. Oddly enough, the study was shot down by Democrats who felt the program would be too expensive.
I returned to the Senate in 2004 to find that not only had we studied the concept, but we had created the program and were spending millions of dollars to fund it. To make matters worse, the program was ultimately approved by a Republican Governor.
For the second year in a row, Governor Kaine is pushing to expand this program to include all 4 year olds, not just those at risk. The cost over the next two years is projected to be $56 million.
This was one of the key issues I addressed when I gave the Republican response to the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth last year. The same arguments I made against this program last year are still valid today.
The current Pre-K program is plagued with problems. According to the Roanoke Times, schools are having difficulty filling the spots currently available--up to 1/3 are unfilled. Many school districts can’t afford to pay the local match required by the State. Others don’t have enough space for the kids.
Why on earth do we need to expand a program that is clearly not working very well as it is? Why do wealthy parents need a government subsidy to send their kids to pre-school? I can see it now--BMW’s lined up to drop 4 year olds off at a public school--give me a break.
The push to expand this program highlights the single biggest problem with government: once you create a program, it’s almost impossible to get rid of it. Back in the 90’s someone had an idea that at risk 4 year olds needed subsidized pre-school. So we eventually decided to study it. I am sure legislators were told how small this program would be and how it would cost very little to implement. And then we created the program and a new bureaucracy. Now that little idea that we studied 15 years ago is on the verge of becoming a program that will cost the State hundreds of millions of dollars.
Not only is it extremely difficult to get rid of programs like this once you create them, but they get more and more expensive over time. They eventually become a “vital” government service. The key is not letting these programs get started in the first place. The evil here is not all government services, but expanding government where it’s not needed.