Missouri can learn a lot from the successes and failures of other states—and this applies to Amendment 3, too. Before voters weigh whether or not to approve a massive expansion to pre-K funding on November 8, they might want to examine the research done on state-funded pre-K programs in states like New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Georgia.
Or, better yet, they may consider how little research there is on the matter. According to a recent article by Haley Glatter in the Atlantic, there are very few studies that thoroughly examine state-run and state-funded pre-K programs. Moreover, these studies are inconclusive on whether or not pre-K offers lasting benefits.
In Georgia and Oklahoma—states with universal pre-K programs—there is evidence that pre-K has reduced achievement gaps. The jury is still out in New York, which established universal pre-K only two years ago. Tennessee, on the other hand, implemented targeted pre-K for low-income children. Positive results were evident when these children entered kindergarten, but the benefits began to fade by first grade. By third grade, these students were performing worse than other students on statewide assessments.
Here are a few things we can take away from these states’ experiences:
- The quality of the pre-K programs offered matters immensely—not all pre-K is created equal.
- Good pre-K programs will not make up for the deficits of a failing K-12 system.
- There are only a handful of programs operating at a state-wide scale which makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions on pre-K.
One of the lingering questions about Amendment 3 is what exactly the pre-K program it creates will look like. In his recent analysis of Amendment 3, the Show-Me Institute’s Michael McShane writes:
To date, it simply isn’t clear what the regulations for participating schools will be. In one sense, this uncertainty means we should probably reserve judgment, but in another it makes it hard to support a program when we don’t know what that program will ultimately look like.
On the one hand, it makes sense for us to gather as much information as we can about the effectiveness of pre-K programs before Missouri designs a program of its own. But then, does it also make sense to wait until we have a well-researched plan in place before amending the constitution and investing such a significant amount in early childhood education?