The Minnesota state coffers will soon be filled with almost two billion dollars of excess revenue, and, undoubtedly, there will be conversations between Democrats and Republicans about how to spend, or not spend, this surplus. Governor Dayton is certain to push for funding preschool for all Minnesota youngsters as this has been an education priority for his administration.
Many feel that an investment in preschool for all Minnesota four year olds is prudent because there may be a high return on investment (ROI). In fact, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce, calculated that “for every dollar invested today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17.00 in the years ahead.” Similarly, James Heckman, a University of Chicago economist and Nobel Laureate, states that there is a seven to ten percent annual return on investment in high-quality preschool.
Given the reading programs found in our state’s kindergarten through third grade programs, I question whether investing tens of millions of dollars in a Minnesota preschool program is a good idea. If our schools are not going to use evidence-based approaches to teach reading and instead promote a sight word reading approach, one that depends on rote memorization of words, the preparation of four year olds will all be for naught. We will be throwing money down the proverbial drain.
Let’s first fix our emerging and struggling reading programs. Then a preschool program’s seeds could really take root and flourish. Without a strong, evidence-based literacy program in the early elementary years, the students’ literacy development will wither like a flower without its nutrients.
Our state’s students deserve better.
John Alexander, Head of School