Governor Tim Kaine wants Virginia to hop aboard the universal-preschool bandwagon. At the recommendation of his blue-ribbon Start Strong Council, he proposes to start a pilot project this fall that would be a prelude to state-subsidized enrollment of 4-year-olds from all levels of household income.
Citing universal preschool systems in Georgia and Oklahoma, the Start Strong Council argued in its December 2006 initial report that evidence exists to show that formal pre-kindergarten schooling helps the future achievement and social progress of not only children from low-income homes but those from affluent families. However, the Council failed to take note of credible studies establishing that reading scores of elementary pupils in those states have not improved since the advent of universal preschool.
More recently, Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report unveiled a new ranking of states in the form of a Chance-for-Success index. It collates data showing how each state does on indicators spanning life from “Cradle to Career.” Virginia ranked No. 1 of the 50 states, while states with universal preschool offered as models for the Old Dominion scored in the bottom one-fourth.
Given strong evidence that preschool benefits at-risk children more than privileged ones, Virginia should consider better alternatives than universal preschool. A good option would be a corporate tax credit such as Pennsylvania’s that could raise millions for preschool scholarships for needy children. Details follow.
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