In a time of budget deficits, the payback from early childhood education ought to be one place where Louisiana’s new governor and Legislature should look to spend more money, not less.
That is a widespread view. Even during a time of slashing of many budgets, Gov. Bobby Jindal often found ways to fund a few more slots in the Louisiana-4 program for prekindergarten.
The educators believe in it. Hollis Milton, school superintendent in West Feliciana, has been following his predecessors in years of backing pre-K programs.
Milton told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that making pre-K access universal, without regard to ability to pay, ought to be a key goal.
“Make an investment in those early ages, and you are going to see students be more successful,” he said.
This initiative draws support from left and right. The Louisiana Budget Project found a rare opportunity to praise Jindal’s backing of pre-K education in Act 3 of 2012. The liberal group called it a “good early childhood education framework.”
We agree, but the reality is that a universal pre-K program — such as that envisioned by Jindal in Act 3 — is going to be an expensive addition.
In 2014, the idea of universal pre-K was not a big issue in the Legislature, but a fiscal estimate of its cost was prepared. Because more children would be enrolled, the money needed to fund the state-local formula for school aid would have to increase. At least $130 million would be needed to provide universal LA-4 pre-K classes. “The program’s actual costs will ultimately depend on participation,” the Legislature’s fiscal office noted.
Some students might also be taken from other programs and enrolled in the LA-4 classes, increasing the formula costs, the 2014 fiscal note added.
But that is not all. As Milton told the Press Club of Baton Rouge, there are real costs in providing facilities to handle more pre-K classes. Those would likely be borne by local taxpayers, who typically pay for school facilities through property or sales taxes.
All that tough talk about finances has to be said, but we doubt that folks like Milton will be swayed, because he called the costs worth it.
Families with a burden of poverty over several generations are the target for pre-K intervention.
Some scientists today argue that pre-K isn’t soon enough, citing new knowledge about how dramatically fast the brain develops before age 4. Still, the reality is that pre-K is proven to be over time a cost-effective program and one that can make a difference in that “intergenerational poverty” decried by Milton and many others.
Other ways to improve the rearing of children, from pregnancy on, may also have a positive impact, but pre-K is an existing program with a track record of results that can be implemented, if a new governor and lawmakers apply themselves to the expensive task.