Monday, January 21, 2008

The Case Against Governor Kaine’s Pre-K Program

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.

2 comments:

Larry Gross said...

..."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."

this doesn't make any sense.

how can localities not afford to pay for kids being delivered in BMW's?

and how can localities not have room?

do you really mean the program itself is not accomplishing better results for kids or do you mean that localities refuse to support it and have zillions of excuses?

If we're concerned about BMW Kids, why not use a little means-testing and use the money saved to fund the space and the program for kids that WILL benefit from it?

The ONLY chance that a kid in demographically disadvantaged circumstances has - at a chance at life - is a decent education.

The State SOQs.. you know the funds taken from better off folks in other jurisdictions and given to those counties around Roanoke are to give the kids in school around the Roanoke Area an equal opportunity at a better education.

Why if the folks in those other donor jurisdictions adopted the same attitude as what you are advocating?

again.. is the complaint that the program is not effective at its purpose or that the will to make it available to the kids that need it - weak?

Isophorone said...

On a per pupil basis, it's already overpriced something like $5,000+ per pupil). What's so funny is that Kaine mentioned vouchers for parents who use this program (maybe this past summer?). Heck, why not have vouchers everywhere, then?

We are in Fairfax County, and pay less than half what the Commonwealth would pay in a private, religious pre-school. Still, the one to which we send our children is considered expensive!