Back in April, Columbia County School Board trustee Wayne Bridges made a motion to begin moving the public-school pre-kindergarten program to the private sector.
Had it gone through, among other things it would have meant private centers, which already handle twice as many pre-K pupils, could have picked up the public school system's state-funded slots starting in fall of 2008. It would have freed up roughly 16 classrooms for our overcrowded schools - perhaps eliminating many unsightly portables. And it could have slowed the building frenzy that has created a new elementary school every other year.
Instead, as they squeamishly signaled immediately after that initial vote, trustees chickened out July 11. With Bridges conspicuously absent, the other four board members voted to maintain status quo - and even advocated expanding the program.
Amazingly, this protection of government pre-K comes despite a lack of data demonstrating whether public pre-K students later perform any better in school than private pre-K students.
"There's no hard data that they're better educated," admits School Board Chairman Regina Buccafusco - though trustee Mike Sleeper says he's talked to dozens of teachers who think it's swell.
Now come on. We live in an era in which school systems are practically drowning in data for every student and "cohort group." Yet the school board is basing an important decision on nothing more than good vibes?
Data is available allowing comparisons of students who have gone through public and private pre-K, or no pre-K program at all. Sleeper himself says he asked for that information, but still hasn't seen it -yet he supports keeping the program anyway.
So here's a simple challenge for trustees: Produce the data. Show taxpayers that public school pre-K is better, or at least as good, as private school pre-K. Provide the information that justifies pushing children into portables to make room for an optional program.
And if the system's data can't back up the anecdotes, isn't it time to let the private sector have the rest of pre-K?
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