Senate Education Committee considering lifting caps on pre-k enrollment

by Rob Roper

Sen. Kevin Mullin, Chairman, Senate Education Committee

In 2007, Governor Jim Douglas signed a compromise bill regarding universal preschool in Vermont, capping the number students eligible to participate. Now, the Senate Education Committee is looking to lift those caps.

At the time Act 62 came into law, there was concern opening up a program to all of Vermont’s 15,000 three and four year olds at over $5000 per child would drive up property taxes and add to an already broken education financing system. Also of concern was the considerable controversy over whether or not these programs actually work or, in fact, do harm to the children who participate over the long term.

Act 62, specified that the Department of Education and the Department of Children and Families should report back to the legislature in January 2010 as to whether or not Vermont’s universal preschool programs were working as promised. (As promised, by the way, includes a $7 to $16 return on each dollar invested in the program, reduced incarceration costs, fewer social problems and a host more benefits not supported by mainstream data).

The report submitted was frank in stating that not enough data existed to determine the efficacy of the program. This should be reason alone not to lift the caps. However, Senate Education seems determined to do so.

Senator Philp Baruth (D-Chittenden) complained, “As a legislator, I don’t want to wait.” And expressed his preference to operate on the “assumption” that universal preschool was working as intended.

Chairman Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) seemed more concerned with the “unfairness” of allowing some to participate and not others, although that is the very nature of a pilot program.

The lineup of testimony is stacked entirely in favor of lifting the caps. This week the committee will hear from no one likely to be opposed to the scheme, including Brad James, Director of the Department of Education, Joel Cook, Director of the Vermont NEA, Jeff Francis, Director of the Vermont Superintendent’s Association, and Steve Dale, Executive Director of the Vermont School Boards Association.

Last week a similarly stacked list of testimony made their cases. (Full disclosure, I was the lone voice of dissent asked to testify).

Chairman Mullin expressed his desire to hear from all sides on this issue. If you are inclined to share your opinion, the members of the Senate Education Committee are senators:

Kevin Mullin, Chair (R-Rutland)

Hinda Miller (D-Chittenden)

Sara Kittel (D-Franklin)

Bill Doyle (R-Washington)

Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden)