Transitional Kindergarten: New poster child for the politics of inequality

Tom-Torlakson-Transitional-KindergartenThe storyline for the 2014 elections will undoubtedly be the new Progressive mantra, “inequality.” And ground zero in this new war of words will be the call for “Transitional Kindergarten.” Formerly known as Universal Pre-School, Transitional Kindergarten will be featured as the new poster child for the politics of inequality by the Left.

In 2010 in his State of the union address, the President pressed for a national universal preschool or, as it has morphed into, “Transitional Kindergarten.” He has since advocated its implementation around the country, calling for the need for cradle to career government intervention and citing “numerous studies” that show seven dollars of economic benefit to every dollar spent.

These benefits, Obama says, happen because

A child who attends quality early care and education programs is less likely to be arrested and more likely to earn higher incomes than a child who does not, and the opportunity to participate in such programs prepares children to attain a higher standard of living as adults and to become members of the high-skilled workforce that is critical to our nation’s economic future”. In other words, like with ObamaCare—where you can keep your health if you like it—the President has learned that he can say anything, guarantee any amorphous benefits, as long as he sells it as having “good intentions.

California Democrats, led by George Miller in Congress, Congressman in waiting Mark DeSaulnier, and Darrell Steinberg in the State Senate, plus Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Schools, have all echoed the President’s call, using identical language, indicating that, if nothing else, they are reading off the same talking points and polling data. Transitional Kindergarten is, as they say, “for the children.”

Government run PreSchool is a failure

The studies advocates cite are numerous, often funded by the Federal government, written by preschool zealots and good intentioned progressives, but they only echo two studies from the 1960’s and 1970′s. Both were multi-year intensive, costly programs whose participants have been tracked for years. 

The Perry Preschool Project was a 1960’s effort in Ypsilanti, Michigan. During its three years the program included 58 students, with an average class size of 11. Each class had two teachers, both of whom had degrees in education and/or Special Education. Teachers were required to visit the students’ home for 1.5 hours per week.

Cited for years as a success, follow-up studies have shown different results, including a high dropout rate, high unemployment, multiple arrests, high welfare costs and out of wedlock births by age 40 for the participating children. Critics cite the small sample size, poor methodology, and errors in statistical evaluations in arriving at earlier conclusions.

The Abecedarian Early Intervention Project was conducted in North Carolina in 1972. There were 111 children who participated in the program between 1972 and 1977. Ninety-eight percent of participants were African-American; participants were placed in the program at 4 months and continued in the program for 5 years, until entering first grade. They were in “school” 6-8 hours per day, five days per week, and attended additional educational and enrichment activities, received nutritional supplements, social services and health care. Total cost of the program was approximately $90,000 per child.

The children were followed through age 30 and typical of these projects, the results vary depending on if you are talking to a supporter or a detractor. At age 21, researchers reported an increase of 1.8 grade level in reading achievement and 1.3 grade level achievement in math and an increase of tested IQ of 4 points, statistically insignificant. 

Data also point to a completion of a half-year more of education, higher enrollment in school, higher attendance at a 4 year college, more engaged in skilled jobs, less criminality and lower percentage of teen parenthood. At age 40 they cite the students were more likely to have graduated from college, been employed over the previous 2 years, and less likely to have been on public assistance in the prior five years.

Detractors found “no statistically significant differences in IQ and that “4.5 years of massive intervention ended with virtually no effect.” They also reported “analytical discrepancies” in published reports, changes in sample sizes, and faulty analysis from the outset due to “faulty randomization” and other issues.

The most rigorous study: The Head Start Impact Study

The most rigorous evaluation of government funded preschool was conducted by the federal government on its massive Head Start program. Head Start was founded in 1965 to prepare low income and minority children with the educational, nutritional, and health care services they needed to be prepared to perform in the traditional K-12 school environment, and then to succeed in life. The program currently serves 900,000 children annually with a budget of $9 billion.

The Head Start Impact Study began in 2002 and was completed in 2010 under Barak Obama. The results are devastating for early childhood supporters; so much so the Obama Administration released the study’s results and final report on Christmas eve, 2010 and has ignored it since.  In fact, the Administration has just awarded Head Start a budget increase this year of $1 billion, increasing its annual budget to $10 Billion. Nothing succeeds in Washington like a good-intentioned, failed program.

The study concluded that childrens’ attendance in Head Start “has no demonstrable impact on their cognitive, academic, socio-emotional, or health status or on “parenting outcomes” at the end of the first grade.”

In effect, the study concluded that taxpayers are spending $9 billion-now $10 billion- annually on a program that achieves none of its goals. When I reviewed the outcome of the study at a local NAACP meeting, one member told me “forget all those measurements, we know what it is for. It’s free babysitting”. Yeah, for $10 billion per year.

Where are we in California?

Universal preschool advocates tried throughout the 1990′s to pass legislation to implement universal preschool throughout California. Failing to achieve this goal, Actor Rob Reiner worked to put Proposition 10 on the ballot in 1998. The proposition passed, establishing “The Children and Families First Act” and subsequently, First 5 California. First 5 California operates statewide today, with 80% of its $500 million or more annual budget provided to County commissions who run programs within each county.

The Les Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) non-profit is the largest universal preschool organization in the State. Funded through First 5 California and occasional grants——it recently received a $5.1 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education——LAUP claims to have educated more than 60,000 children in more than 300 LAUP funded preschools since 2005.

The Legislature worked to fund universal preschool through 2006. Failing again in 2006, they changed tactics and introduced SB-1381, the Transitional Kindergarten Readiness Act in 2009. The legislation was introduced by Democratic Senator Joe Simitian who promised the effort would be “revenue neutral,” although the Legislative Analyst office produced a report showing it would cost $900 million per year “plus costs” when fully implemented.

The bill was signed into law in late 2010. In 2011 Governor Brown stopped implementation of the law due to cost projections of $224 million the first year, $672 million by 2014-14 and $990 million when fully implemented.

The program was later introduced as a voluntary program for school districts to decide to offer it or not, although there is currently a difference of opinion between State education leaders and school districts whether it is voluntary or mandatory for school districts to participate.

California educational law (EC4800) currently defines the program as “the first year of a two-year kindergarten program that uses a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate.” Some districts in the State have refused to offer the program. Today, approximately 40,000 California children are participating in Transitional Kindergarten classes.

On January 7 of this year State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson and non-profit advocacy group Early Edge announced they are co-sponsoring legislation to provide Transitional Kindergarten to all children in California. The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2014 is sponsored in the State Senate by Senator Darrell Steinberg. Superintendent Torlakson also announced he is re-organizing the California Dept. of Education to put more emphasis on Transitional Kindergarten and early education. Mr. Steinberg announced the new program would add 350,000 children to public schools and require the additional of unionization of 18,000 preschool teachers and aides. He called the law “Democrats’ number one priority this year.”  The program will phase in over five years.

What is the status of universal preschool and Transitional Kindergarten today?

Today more than 80% of 4 year olds attend preschool in America, about 42% in public programs. Thirty-eight states have some type of funding program with an average cost between $4,100 and $4,600. States use different methodologies to provide Preschool or Transitional Kindergarten. Florida provides a voucher to send their children to the school of their choice; Oklahoma funds voluntary pre-kindergarten as it does K-12, with 72% of families participating. New Jersey mandates free preschool to children in the poorest districts. Illinois was the first state to offer voluntary preschool to all 3 and 4 year olds in 2006.

Transitional Kindergarten is the cornerstone of Democratic politics

It has been written that the Progressive world rewards and evaluates itself on its “good intentions” not results or successful outcomes of programs. Universal preschool met the good intention criteria, but failed to deliver any tangible campaign benefits for elected Democrats. Who needs a system with local standards and controls, little dependency on government, little taxpayer money to hand out to friends and supporters, and no increase in union membership and forced dues to support Democratic Party politics?  No, it was necessary for “preschool” to morph into Transitional Kindergarten to realize all its benefits and provide a platform on which to constantly run for office.

Just like ObamaCare for health care, where 85% of Americans had health insurance that they liked, 80% of children are in preschool programs today. However, Transitional Kindergarten fulfills six key criteria for being the cornerstone of Progressive politics, as health care once was. Transitional kindergarten:

1.  Fosters dependency on government and kills private sector jobs and businesses. Eighty percent of three and four year olds attend preschool in the U.S. today, 42% of them in government sponsored programs. Democrats cannot accept only 42% dependency on government, with local control and standards.

2.  Allows Democrats to buy votes with taxpayer money. Who is not going to vote for politicians who pay for your childcare, feed your children, care for their emotional and physical needs and strip them of any independence? Since “Boss Tweed” and the infamous Tammany Hall in the 1870’s, through FDR and now Barak Obama, Democrats have a grand of history of buying votes with taxpayer dollars. Why stop now?

3.  Allows the “education” of the population at age four or before. Combine Transitional Kindergarten with the Obama administration implementation of free school DINNERS this year to the program of free school breakfast and lunch and we might as well just build orphanages. Hell, if we are going to educate children from, as the President said, the cradle to the career, why not just take them at birth and give the “parents” visitation rights.

4.  Allows Progressives to grow the government and dues paying public sector unions. California’s proposed Transitional Kindergarten forecasts the need to hire 12,000 public school teachers and 6,000 aids. CTA, already the biggest and strongest union in the State, becomes the true and undisputed owner of government in California.

And while I’m thinking about it, why would you give California’s public schools, who are failing us now, with a job that you thought was important? The graduation rate for California schools is only 78%, 73% for Hispanics and 65% for Blacks, and our children test at 47th out of 50 states on the National Assessment Test. Why would parents and taxpayers trust them with this?

5.  Allows Democrats to continue the redistribution of wealth in the country. Bill de Blasio, the new Mayor of New York, was elected last November running on the promise to tax “wealthy” New Yorkers to fund Transitional Kindergarten in New York City; the tradition continues.

6.  Importantly, Transitional kindergarten gives politicians such as Barak Obama, Darrell Steinberg, Tom Torlakson, and Congressman in waiting Mark DeSaulnier the opportunity to continue growing class and race hatred in the country. The argument goes, only the rich get to send their kids to quality preschool while the poor have to care and educate children at home. How unfair is that?

This post is based on the proposition that Transitional Kindergarten is THE fight of 2014 and beyond. It is not a fight for this election; it is a fight for the way we live, the role we see for government, for families, for our society and its institutions.  It is time for us all to join the fight against the destruction of our freedoms and our way of life.

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  1. Rose says

    The person that wrote this article has so many facts wrong when it comes to the history of Transitional Kindergarten and its implementation in California. The facts about its costs are also grossly misstated. I wish these people would be held accountable for publishing these falsehoods.

  2. Richard Eber says

    Hal Bray’s article is most insightful. If content were any indication, this piece should go “viral”

    California and its “Big Brothers” in Washington D.C. need to balance their budgets prior to getting involved with funding social experiments such as universal pre-school.

    The question to be asked is whether it should be the responsibility of government on any level to determine if families are to participate in such programs. In the past tax breaks have been utilized to assist working parents pay for having others supervise their children. In my mind it is uncertain if government policy should go beyond this threshold.

    To me the most worrisome aspect of government operated pre-school services is taking more responsibility from parental control on how their kids are raised and placing it in the hands of the State.. I am concerned that this proposal is merely another step in the “progressive” entitlement nation process.