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.”
Predictably, critics have seized upon this research to bash New Orleans’ school reforms.
One side effect of New Orleans' experiment w/ school decentralization: charters no longer offer pre-k. Logic is same as employers who are no longer willing to pay to train workers https://t.co/lH6KbRvYMO pic.twitter.com/r5Wn410s1e
— Jennifer Berkshire (@BisforBerkshire) December 7, 2017
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.
In 2005, LA4 provided $4,916 per student to pre-k programs, which is the equivalent of $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.
- Full disclosure: I worked with Lindsay Weixler for a period at Teach For America in 2005. ↩