Newly-elect Governor Walz alludes to pre-K being one focus of his education agenda

The swearing in today of Governor Tim Walz as Minnesota’s 41st governor included an inaugural address shared by the Star Tribune here.

In his primarily education-themed message, Walz alluded to pre-kindergarten being one focus of his education agenda.

Minnesotans, let’s recognize some simple truths: Education is the great equalizer of society… Putting a young child on a yellow bus to pre-kindergarten in St. Cloud can prevent him from riding a prison bus to Stillwater.

Expanding pre-kindergarten programs and funding was a central priority for former Governor Mark Dayton. The state legislature last year approved one-time funding of $56.6 million for a School Readiness Plus/Voluntary Pre-K “hybrid” that Dayton lobbied hard to make permanent.

The effectiveness and long-term benefits of government-funded pre-K programs are weak. Studies looking at the long-term effects on student achievement find that early gains are short-lived and often fizzle out by second and third grade. According to Grover “Russ” Whitehurst at the Brookings Institute, the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program study provides the “strongest evidence on elementary school impacts of state pre-K” because it is the only study so far that uses “randomized trials of scaled-up state pre-K programs with follow-up of children in the treatment and controls groups as they progress through elementary school.” The study found that “positive achievement effects at the end of pre-K reversed… by 2nd and 3rd grade.”

To be clear, Whitehurst recognizes this is “only one study of one state pre-K program at one point in time,” but he uses the rest of his article to explain other analyses he has done that confirm pre-K benefits are overblown.

Should all children have the opportunity to succeed in school and life? Without a doubt. But increased investments in state pre-K will not meaningfully enhance student achievement for our at-risk learners.