Report touts value of preschool

Every dollar invested to make preschool classes available to more Kentucky children would produce more than $5 in benefits for the state, according to a cost-analysis released Friday by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

The study claims that, in addition to financial returns, expanding "pre-K" programs would reduce the need for special education courses and help to lower crime and child abuse and neglect rates, while boosting high school graduation and post-secondary education enrollment rates for low-income students.

The report comes as the state Department of Education is considering cuts in preschool programs as one of the reductions it might have to make in slashing its budget by about $20 million this fiscal year.

The report was prepared by the University of Kentucky Center for Business and Economic Research for Strong Start Kentucky, a coalition that advocates expansion of preschool programs in Kentucky. Strong Start is an initiative of the Prichard Committee.

Preschool is available for 3- and 4-year-olds in Kentucky who have disabilities and for 4-year-olds whose families' incomes are 150 percent or less of federal poverty level. That's about $33,000 for a family of four.

Strong Start wants to gradually expand preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds, starting by extending services to families at up to 200 percent over poverty.

Cindy Heine, associate executive director of the Prichard Committee, said Friday it was only a coincidence the report came out as the state is considering preschool reductions.

"We've had this report in process for a long time, and the meeting to release it has been scheduled for two months," she said. "It was just fortunate timing. But it won't be fortunate if we end up losing money for kids."