NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 17, 2006

Proposition 82 will cost Californian's $2.3 billion a year for three hours daily of public pre-kindergarten. Yet, despite many studies, little is known about how long lasting the benefits are or what it takes to get them, says the Los Angeles Times.

The initiative's supporters often cite a Rand Corp. study which suggests that for each dollar spent on universal preschool, Californians can expect $2.62 in savings on jails, special education and other services.

According to the Times:

  • The Rand study is based mostly on a successful Chicago program for impoverished black children. Preschool was only one part of the program, which provided parent education, health care, social services and long-term assistance.
  • It extrapolates what that may mean in a far more limited California program with a very different population.

The Chicago experiment shows that weaving an extensive social services net for struggling families that includes preschool has big benefits. But it says little about what a half-day of preschool would accomplish for California kids. Moreover, universal preschool does not appear to raise test scores, says the Times:

  • In Georgia, which has had universal preschool for more than a decade, preschool-educated children fared much better academically in kindergarten, but the advantage faded by third grade.
  • A recent nationwide University of California, Santa Barbara study showed similar results, as has other research, though the study also found preschool graduates were somewhat less likely to be placed in special education or held back a grade.

Part of the initiative's high cost stems from its requirements that preschool teachers must have a bachelor's degree and a teaching credential and be paid the same as public schoolteachers. A study in Georgia, however, found former preschoolers did equally well once they reached school, regardless of whether their preschool teachers had a two-year, technical or bachelor's degree.

Source: Editorial, "Preschool pretensions," Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2006.


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