They shouldn’t be, but they are. That’s the headline in today’s Tennessean – though they’re not featuring the story nearly as prominently on their website as they did on the print edition front page. Here’s the opening of the story:

From President Bush to chambers of commerce, early education has been heralded like a miracle drug that better prepares youngsters for kindergarten and beyond.

So it came as something of a surprise to Gov. Phil Bredesen and some early-education advocates — including business leaders — this year when several Tennessee Republicans, led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, expressed both ideological and fiscal resistance to expanding pre-kindergarten.

“These Republican lawmakers are out of step with the rest of the country,” said Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

“This has been a bipartisan issue,” Doggett said. “Children are not red or blue. Early education is not about being a Democrat or Republican.”

At issue is Bredesen’s proposal to open 250 additional pre-kindergarten classrooms across the state, with an emphasis on broadening the program to middle-class children. Until now, Tennessee’s $80 million pre-kindergarten program has been geared to low-income children.

“That’s how it was sold to us,” said state Sen. Diane Black, a Gallatin Republican who is chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus. She supports public pre-kindergarten for poor children.

She frames her deep concerns over including middle-income tykes in the context of a culture war, finding it “very, very disturbing” for the state to think it can do a better job instructing 4-year-olds than moms or dads can.

“The message of pre-K supporters is that teachers can do a better job than parents can,” Black said. “That goes too far for me, to say that parents are not adequate.

Kudos to State Senators Ramsey and Black for standing up to this misguided attempt to expand the insatiable public education trough.

There are any number of reasons why expanding Pre-K for all children in Tennessee is a bad idea.

First, pre-K programs have NOTHING to do with long-term academic success.  Three years ago, the Tennessee Policy Institute did an excellent, detailed review of the existing research on the effectiveness of Pre-K and Head Start programs. The results might surprise you. “In the long run, cognitive and socioemotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did
not attend Head Start.77″ And there’s this conclusion:

“Once the children enter school there is little difference between the scores of Head Start and control children…Findings for the individual cognitive measures—intelligence, readiness and achievement—reflect the same trends as the global measure…By the end of the second year there are no educationally meaningful differences on any of the measures.78

Finally the supposed successes of the existing program are being described this way:

“By the time 4-year-olds leave the program, they’re expected to recognize written letters and numbers, know shapes and colors, follow directions, raise their hands and finish homework.”

Friends, parents have been successfully teaching their children these things for centuries. Its part of being a parent. To imply that only children who have been enrolled in a pre-K program learn these things is insulting.

What the pre-K program REALLY is . . . is a giant jobs program for the educational unions. With declining enrollments in grades 1-12, they’re looking for ways to keep the dollars flowing and to justify the alarming number of administrative positions.

The sad, but cynical truth is this: the goal of the public education system is not to educate children but to keep the dollars flowing to the education bureaucracy and the education bureaucrats.
These objections cannot be overcome by the demagogic rhetorical trick of proclaiming that the opponents of Pre-K hate kids. Its precisely the opposite. Its because we love our children that parents don’t want to surrender them to the government-run, factory, monopoly school system.

– Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press