Senator Grothman On Stopping 4-K

I know this is a little “dated”, but the fight is far from over.  Linked is the short version that you can download, print, and pass out to your friends and neighbors: Time_to_Stop_4K

From State Senator Glenn Grothman:

As frequently reported, the state has a potential $13 billion deficit in the two-year budget beginning on July 1st. An obvious place to look for reductions is in new programs which have only been in existence for the past 10 years. Since most people felt government was too big and costly in the year 2000, it’s hard to say that any program started since then is completely necessary.

One of those programs is 4-year-old kindergarten (4-K). In the past 10 years, the number of children enrolled has more than tripled. Last year this program cost the state $140 million in state tax collections and cost local property tax payers another $82 million.

In many districts, 4-K started because of an unintentional glitch in the state school revenue limits. Every district is assigned an annual revenue limit that it can spend on each student. For explanatory purposes, let’s set that limit at $9,000 per student times the total number of students enrolled. This is the amount the district spends from state aid and your property taxes. A school district can also spend additional money from other sources like federal aid. Districts are allowed to spend $9,000 for each full-time student whether the child is age 6 or age 18. A child who is in school for half a day counts as one-half of a student and a school district may therefore spend $4,500 for each half-student in our hypothetical district.

In the real world it costs much more to educate an 18-year-old than a five-year-old. Due to extra-curriculars, science equipment, etc., it may cost $12,000 to educate an 18-year-old but $7,500 to educate a five-year-old. The critical point for taxpayers to note is that the district makes money on the four and five-year-olds and loses money on the high school students. This encourages districts to adopt 4-K as well as go from half-day to all day 5-K. While not many district administrators publicly give this as the reason for why they want 4-K, several have told me privately that this is why they do it.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to keep funding 4-K if studies showed it helped. As it happens, we know a lot more about the effect of 4-K (preschool) today than when this fad caught on about 20 years ago. The teacher’s union has persuaded several states to dramatically increase 4-K since that time. In 2008, an article listed Wisconsin as having the 7th most students in 4-K. Wisconsin, which used to be considered a state with some of the best schools in the United States, has taken a step backward in academics in spite of an increase in students enrolled in 4-K. In 1992, only three states had better reading scores than Wisconsin fourth graders. The most recent studies show Wisconsin’s Caucasian students are now below the national average.

National studies continuously show that 4-K is not helpful. Oklahoma was one of the most publicized states to dramatically increase funding for 4-K in 1998 and has what was considered to be the model program, spending over $7,000 per child. After 11 years, their fourth grade reading scores have dropped while the rest of the country went up. Oklahoma, the poster child for universal preschool, used to be better than the national average and now they’re worse. Georgia, which spends nowhere near as much did have scores that went up, but over the last six years they haven’t gone up as much as the national average. The reason is simple – by teaching four-year-olds to read or count, the child will do better as a five-year-old, but by the time they’re seven, eight or nine, the difference disappears.

This is why studies can’t find a benefit to Head Start, the federally-funded program for disadvantaged four-year-olds that’s been around for 40 years. Both the Brookings Institute and the United States Department of Health and Human Services found no benefit to the Head Start children by the time they get to the second or third grade. It should be pointed out that even if Wisconsin were to discontinue 4-K, most low-income students would be eligible for the federally funded Head Start. This will not be good enough for the teacher’s union, however, since Head Start teachers are not unionized.

While studies on social development have not been done, numerous studies do indicate the harmful effects of daycare on children. Given its similarities to daycare, it’s likely that 4-K may have some of the same effects. There is not a paid caregiver that can equally substitute the love and affection of a mother or grandparent.

Given the economic harm 4-K will continue to have on our state, and lack of any credible evidence that 4-K programs are beneficial to young children, Governor Walker should immediately announce he will not provide any more money for four-year-old kindergarten. Schools are now putting together their budgets for the 2011-2012 school year. If Walker doesn’t act soon, more school districts will begin 4-K. The gigantic Madison school district has already announced plans to start a new 4-K next year. Either the state will have to come up with millions to fund their share, or property taxes will skyrocket. Considering our current budget crisis, there is no excuse not to act now.

Please let me know what you think on this issue. Contact me in Madison at 1-800-662-1227 or email me at