Consequences of reducing pre-K quality

One of my news alerts recently came across an interesting blog entry from Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Her blog entry highlighted recent budget cuts to Georgia’s pre-K program, and their consequences.

According to the blog entry, the recent budget cuts included a cut in the pre-K year from 10 months to 9 months. One consequence of this reduced program year was a 10% pay cut for pre-K teachers. As a result, a recent AJC story suggests that this has significantly increased pre-K teacher turnover.  For example, in Fulton County,

“Prior to all the budget cuts, we retained about 70 to 75 percent of our teachers,” said Montreal Gore Bell, Fulton’s coordinator of early childhood and remedial programs. “Now, we’ve pretty much flip-flopped.”

What are the consequences of such program reductions for the effectiveness of pre-K programs, and hence state and local economic development? As I argued in a previous blog entry, reducing average test score gains for a pre-K class of 15 by just 1 percentile point would reduce the present value of future earnings for that class by $22,500. Most of this would occur within the local economy, as most former pre-K participants would stay in the same local area for most of their working career.

A full-day pre-K program such as in Georgia might, if it is high-quality, increase students’ test scores at kindergarten entry, compared to non-participants, by 16 to 18 percentile points.  Cutting the school year by 10% might easily, by itself, cut those average test score gains by more than 1 percentile.

But surely higher teacher turnover would also hurt quality. One fairly consistent finding in the research on teacher quality is that first-year teachers are generally less effective than more experienced teachers.

Georgia’s budget cuts to pre-K probably reduce future economic benefits by significantly more than the budget savings. They appear to be an example of “penny wise and pound foolish”.

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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