House Speaker Beth Harwell wants the state to hold the line on current funding for the state’s pre-K program for low-income children, although the latest study results show student gains in the program diminish over time.
“Pre-K education is not bad, but it doesn’t give us the long term results that we would like for it to,” Harwell told reporters Thursday.
Despite the results, she said she would stand by Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to maintain current funding for the program for the time being while he awaits the conclusion of the study next year.
Vanderbilt University released the latest update to its multiyear study this month showing initial gains made by pre-K students over their peers who did not attend had diminished by the end of their kindergarten year or first grade.
Some members of Harwell’s House Republican caucus are vocal opponents to the state’s pre-K program. Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) said this week he wants to see the state shift resources now spent on the program elsewhere, such as to “having a great teacher in front of every classroom.”
The state legislature and governor set aside $87 million for the program this year that will send some 18,000 4-year-olds to preschool. The program has an emphasis toward at-risk or high priority communities.
Harwell told reporters holding the program’s funding steady is “reasonable” right now.
“What we do know about pre-K education is for those children that come from disadvantaged home lives, it does make them socially more skilled to enter into a learning environment,” she said. “So, I think it justifies the amount we’re spending now. I wouldn’t like to see us spend additional money.”