Iowa’s Republican legislature last month fast-tracked a bill that would end the state’s guaranteed universal preschool program, instead reserving the state’s budget surplus for corporate tax breaks. And New Jersey Republicans are now following the hawkeye state’s lead.
According to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger, Republicans in the New Jersey legislature want to cut New Jersey’s preschool program from a full day to a half day, and send the money they save to richer, suburban school districts:
A proposal being pushed by Senate Republicans would shift state money to cash-strapped suburban districts by cutting back preschool for the state’s neediest students, according to a document obtained by The Star-Ledger. The senators suggest slicing preschool funding in half — reducing programs from a full-day to a half-day — then using the $300 million saved to boost funding for suburban and rural schools, some of which saw their state aid wiped out in last year’s budget cuts.
Of course, the state should look to aid cash-strapped schools wherever it can. But taking money from low-income preschool students is possibly the worst way to find savings, given the myriad benefits of investing in early childhood education. The Star-Ledger editorial board called the New Jersey GOP’s proposal “dumbfounding,” noting that the state’s preschool program has been an “undoubted success”:
Kids who graduate from those programs are making solid and measurable gains in reading and math. As a result, poor minority kids are closing the gap with their peers in the suburbs on fourth-grade tests. That’s no small achievement. So it is dumbfounding to hear that Senate Republicans want to cripple these programs by taking away $300 million in state funding, and transferring it to wealthier suburban districts.
A study by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University also found that “children who attended an extended-day, extended-year pre-school program in Elizabeth [New Jersey] experienced greater improvement in test scores compared to peers who attended half-day programs.”
In addition to these obvious educational benefits for individual students, there are also clear economic benefits to investing in preschool programs. According to a study by the Rand Corporation, a dollar spent on a high quality preschool programs “generate[s] a return to society ranging from $1.80 to $17.07.” A new study from the National Institute of Health found that Chicago’s preschool program generates $4-$11 of economic benefits over a child’s lifetime for every dollar spent. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke himself has praised the economy boosting potential of early childhood education.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has been noncommittal on his party’s proposal, but in the past has said that preschool is simply “glorified baby-sitting,” And “he recently called it ‘crazy’ that poor districts get such a large share of state education aid.”