Jim Rex: style over substance on government prekindergarten

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More taxpayers’ money and lowered expectations are Jim Rex’s miracle cure for all that ails children in South Carolina.

Last Wednesday the taxpayer-funded publicity presses in Columbia were churning out spin at full steam.

The Department of Education proudly announced that public preschool programs in South Carolina earned “high ratings” in a 50-state study conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

Speaking in his characteristically vague political platitudes, Superintendent Rex offering the following un-insightful commentary:

The new NIEER report shows us how far we’ve come in South Carolina, but it also demonstrates how far we still have to go,” said State Superintendent of Education Rex. “It is absolutely essential that we expand our early childhood offerings, especially to children from low-come families who are at-risk for success. It’s just the right thing to do. To do otherwise shortchanges our young people and jeopardizes the future of our state.”

Naturally, Rex made no mention of the “shortchanging” effects of a 55% on-time high school graduation rate, the sinking standardized test scores, and growing racial- and income- correlated achievement gaps that distinguish his monolithic K-12 public school system as the nation’s worst.

A closer look at the NIEER data indicates that the “success” of public prekindergarten is, at least in this report, being gauged by funding level and participation rates rather than student outcomes or verifiable impact on kindergarten readiness.

Interestingly, the only qualitative “rankings” in the South Carolina state report were:

access of 4-year-olds to government prekindergarten (10th of 50 states)

access of 3-year-olds to government prekindergarten (13th of 50)

state spending on government prekindergarten (37th of 50)

combined local, state and federal spending on government prekindergarten (38th of 50)

Based on the fact that nearly 700,000 students in grades K through 12 attend public schools with spending of $11,000 per-student, and considering that high levels of “access” and “resources” for those students have clearly not translated into competitive levels of student achievement, excitement over these prekindergarten indicators is premature.

Also lost in the Department’s spin of the NIEER study was the fact thousands of children in South Carolina enjoy access to quality pre-school programs via School Choice in the form of the ABC/First Steps program. This program provides low-income parents with real choices and saves taxpayers money.

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