GOP senators eye cutbacks in pre-k program

Some senators say they would like to begin scaling back the state’s pre-kindergarten program in light of a Vanderbilt University study, reports Richard Locker, apparently putting them at odds with Gov. Bill Haslam.

The governor told the state Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday that he’d prefer to examine whether the program lacks the quality needed to have lasting academic impacts on disadvantaged children or if the questions raised by the study released last month are more systemic.

…Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, told the governor that the Vanderbilt findings indicate “pre-K is a waste of time” and asked if he is giving “any thought to redirecting that money” to other education programs.

After the meeting concluded, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters he’s always favored freezing the pre-K program where it is and not expanding it to more 4-year-old across the state but that he now favors scaling it back over time.

“I’ll leave it up to the governor: he’ll have to propose it. There’ll probably be bills in the Legislature to pull back,” Ramsey said. “Do I think we should pull back? We probably should start systematically pulling back on that. Education is a limited pot of money, a finite pot and any dollar you put into pre-K is a dollar you took away from K-12 education. I would like see it begin, absolutely. I don’t know what the amount would be.”

In response to Niceley, the governor said he expects lawmakers to discuss prekindergarten in light of the study.

“The results are not just a Tennessee discussion; it’s being held all across the country. The people who are very strong for pre-K say it’s a quality issue, (that) the reason you’re not seeing any long-standing change is because it’s not the right quality of program,” Haslam said.