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A Huge Blind Spot In New Orleans Pre-K Study

Researchers blame charter school “incentives” while totally ignoring funding cuts

The Education Research Alliance (ERA) at Tulane University is out with a new study looking at how New Orleans’ charter-based school reforms have impacted pre-kindergarten.

What did they find? Between the 2004-05 school year (the last full school year before Hurricane Katrina) and S.Y. 2014-15, the number of available school-based pre-k seats in New Orleans declined 34 percent. The authors of the study go on to conclude:

“New Orleans’ transition to an almost-all-charter school district resulted in a substantial reduction in school-based pre-K in the city. Our results suggest that insufficient incentives are in place for schools to invest their funds in pre-K in this decentralized setting of highly mobile students.”

As lead author Lindsay Weixler told The Lens, “The biggest takeaway for me is the mismatch between decentralized school governance and an optional program like pre-k.”1

Predictably, critics have seized upon this research to bash New Orleans’ school reforms.


But Weixler and her colleagues completely ignore a (blindingly obvious) alternative explanation for the decline in available pre-K seats in New Orleans: funding cuts. Nowhere does the ERA study mention that Louisiana’s LA4 program, which provides the bulk of the state’s pre-kindergarten funding for low-income students, suffered significant cuts during the period in question, thanks to the ruinous fiscal policies of former Governor Bobby Jindal.

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In 2005, LA4 provided $4,916 per student to pre-k programs, which is the equivalent of $6,203 in 2017 dollars.

In 2005, Louisiana’s LA4 program provided $4,916 per-pupil, or about $6,203 in 2017 dollars.

Today, the LA4 program provides only $4,580 per student enrolled. Moreover, a 2012 overhaul of early education standards and requirements made pre-k programs more costly than they were in 2005.

Back in 2010, education journalist Sarah Carr, writing for the Times-Picayune, reported that LA4 funding cuts were making it nearly impossible for charters to provide pre-k programs. Those financial barriers haven’t eased in the intervening seven years.

Weixler and her co-authors not ignore the crucially important funding issue, but they unfairly insist New Orleans’ charter schools aren’t providing pre-K because they lack the incentives to do so. A look at the numbers, however, suggests the real problem is that many charters simply can’t afford it.


  1. Full disclosure: I worked with Lindsay Weixler for a period at Teach For America in 2005. 

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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