"It's for the kids." That's what then-Gov. Phil Bredesen told Tennesseans when he rolled out his pre-kindergarten program in 2005.
Bredesen based Tennessee's pre-k program on Georgia's model for early childhood education -- a model that studies proved time and time again fell victim to the "fade out" effect and produced no long-term benefits for students.
In every large-scale government pre-k program, including Head Start, studies show that gains made by children in pre-k fade out by about the third grade. By the second grade, students attending the Georgia pre-k program performed no better on test scores or in the classroom than children of the same socioeconomic background who did not attend the program.
Large government pre-k programs aren't successful in helping children long term. They never have been. They're a sham. A big ol' bunch of poppycock.
Since they don't work in improving educational outcomes, government pre-k schemes are ultimately little more than expensive taxpayer-funded babysitting services.
Still, even knowing how little the program would do to help children and how much it would cost taxpayers, Bredesen pushed the state into the pre-k business.
Pre-k was never about the kids for Bredesen. The program was actually always designed as nothing more than a payday for the teachers union.
At the time, the state teachers union was hemorrhaging members -- it still is -- and Bredesen, who owed the union a debt of thanks for their assistance in getting him elected both as mayor of Nashville and governor of Tennessee, saw creating more teaching jobs as a way to say "thank you." As a result of the state hiring thousands of new teachers, the teachers union would have thousands of possible new members -- and millions of dollars in new dues.
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It will come as no surprise that, since its launch, Tennessee's pre-k program has been a bust.
Since 2007, the state has contracted Strategic Research Group to conduct a series of studies to chart the effects of how participation in the Tennessee pre-k program impacts academic success.
So far, the studies show that pre-k students fare a little better than other "economically disadvantaged students through the second grade."
However, Strategic Research Group determined that "[f]or students in grades 3-5, analyses have found either no significant effect of pre-k participation on assessment scores, or, in some cases, have found that students who attended pre-k, on average, score lower than their non-pre-k counterparts on some assessments.
In other words, pre-k not only didn't help students, but sometimes pre-k students actually performed worse in school than low income children who didn't go to pre-k.
Tennessee's pre-k program actually makes kids dumber!
To make matters worse, taxpayers have paid dearly for these pathetic results. Since 2005, when lawmakers enacted Tennessee's government-run pre-k bureaucracy, the scheme has devoured well over half a billion dollars in taxpayers' money. Pre-k is on pace to burn through another $91.4 million this year.
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When Bredesen left office, we hoped that we'd seen the last of a governor exploiting four-year-olds for political gain.
Unfortunately, we haven't.
Rather than working to repeal the program, Gov. Bill Haslam -- in the face of the overwhelming evidence illustrating the failure of the scheme -- will likely propose an expansion of state-run pre-k in the coming legislative session, he told The Associated Press earlier this summer.
But why? The governor went to Emory, so surely the man has the basic reading and comprehension skills necessary to understand the facts -- and the facts clearly state that Tennessee's pre-k program just doesn't work.
Giving Haslam the benefit of the doubt and assuming he understands the state's pre-k is an abject failure constructed simply to pander to the teachers union, the only conclusion that any reasonable person could make is that Haslam is a self-serving conservative imposter. He's willing to sell little kids and state taxpayers down the river for a little bit of good press from fawning pre-k supporters in the media and a few pats on the back from the teachers union.
As a Republican and, at least ostensibly, a conservative, you'd think that Haslam would question whether it's the appropriate role of government to so involved in raising, nurturing and educating four-year-olds.
If he had, he would have found a number of reports discouraging pre-k for developmental reasons, including a particularly involved 2005 study by researchers at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, which found that pre-k "hinders social development and created poor social behavior, such as bullying and aggression, and a lack of motivation to take part in classroom activities." Apparently for the sake of their social development, it's better for preschool-aged children to simply play and interact on their own terms, not in a structured, formal school setting.
Before Haslam pours additional tax dollars into pre-k and gets the government entangled in the lives of more little four-year-olds, he needs to ask, "who really benefits from pre-k?" The answer isn't children or taxpayers. It's the teachers union, which grows richer any time the state's education bureaucracy expands.
If Haslam really wants what's best for children, he'll fight for less pre-k, not more.