The best study of pre-K indicates it HARMS children

As we move beyond a contentious series of primaries in both parties and look to the fall election, it worth highlighting one of the big issues on the fall ballot: the plan to “tap” New Mexico’s permanent fund to provide universal preschool.

As written, voters will decide whether to: “allocate 1.25% of the five-year average of year-end market values of the money in the Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) to early childhood education…” The Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) estimated that the additional allocation would be about $245.7 million in fiscal year 2023. Of that total, $126.9 million would be allocated for early childhood education, $84.6 million to public education, and $34.2 million for the LGPF’s other beneficiaries.

The advocates’ plan is to provide “free,” “universal” pre-K to all New Mexico 3 and 4 year olds.

But, while advocates and supporters tout all kinds of supposed benefits of government-funded pre-K, the best available study of the issue (involving a randomized control) of a similar program that has been in place for years in Tennessee found pre-K actually had NEGATIVE impacts on children.

According to the study, “Children who attended Tennessee’s state-funded voluntary pre-K program during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years were doing worse than their peers by the end of sixth grade in academic achievement, discipline issues and special education referrals. The trend emerged by the end of third grade and was even more pronounced three years later.” The following quotes from one of the study authors:

“[We] have let ourselves get into the idea that what these children need is a lot more academic instruction.” Farran said. “And I would say, no, it’s just the opposite. What you would like to give poor children is a feeling of being cared for and being successful.”

While other pre-K studies often seem to show positive results from massive government “investment” in pre-K programs, few of those studies feature a control group. Studies supporting pre-K in New Mexico and elsewhere simply compare voluntarily participating and non-participating students, not those chosen randomly.