If California voters approve a $2.4 billion Preschool for All initiative that will be on the ballot this June, it would result in a $109,000 per-student cost for taxpayers, according to a policy brief issued by the Reason Foundation. That figure is based on the initiative’s goal of having 70% of all preschoolers enrolled in programs. Because 66% of the state’s four-year-olds are already enrolled in some type of preschool program, the new initiative would come with a very high price tag to target the additional 4% of eligible students.
Furthermore, the study says that universal preschool programs implemented by other states – like Georgia and Oklahoma in the 1990s – do not automatically translate into better student performance in later grades, as measured by standardized test scores. In 2005, both states scored below the national average on fourth-grade standardized reading tests.
The Reason Foundation report explains that a RAND Corporation study showing a $2.62 benefit to California for each dollar it spends on a universal preschool program is “overly optimistic and off base” because students in that study received far more than just schooling. In that RAND survey, 1,500 disadvantaged Chicago were also given speech therapy, health screenings, meals, tutoring, and parent involvement seminars.
Instead of the universal preschool program on the table, the Reason Foundation suggests redistributing the $3 billion the state already spends on preschool, and implementing a tax credit for lower- and middle-class families.
The full report, “The Case Against Universal Preschool in California” is available on the Reason Foundation’s web site. The Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank organization that conducts research on a variety of public policy issues.