William Patrick | The Center Square
A new study by the Council for A Better Louisiana shows long-term benefits for children who participate in a statewide public Pre-K program known as LA 4.
Previous research indicated preschool programs positively could impact student readiness and achievement in elementary school, but the Baton Rouge-based nonprofit’s new findings mark sustained benefits through high school, making the results unique.
“We think the findings of this study are extremely significant,” said Barry Erwin, the organization’s president. “It shows that high-quality early childhood can help promote long-term educational benefits for students who participate in programs like LA 4 compared to those who do not have that opportunity.”
The Council for A Better Louisiana is a public interest group founded by state business leaders in 1962. The “LA 4 Longitudinal High School Outcomes Study” was produced by nationally recognized early education experts and was published by the nonpartisan firm.
The study followed the first three LA 4 cohorts through the end of high school and analyzed student performance year over year. The results showed measurable gains across various categories.
Algebra scores were 12.1% higher for students who participated in LA 4 versus students who did not participate. Biology scores were 9.3% higher, geometry was 8.4% higher and English 2 was 7.8% higher. English 3 showed no measurable impact.
Special education placements fell by 45%, and the high school graduation rate was 4.3% higher compared with students who were not enrolled in LA 4.
The findings come with policy implications that could lead to expanded program access and funding.
According to the Louisiana Department of Education, LA 4 serves more than 16,000 children and provides full-day Pre-K programs in public schools for 4-year-olds primarily from disadvantaged families.
The total per-pupil funding amount for the 2020-2021 school year was $4,580. The program is free for children whose parents make less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Reduced and full-price options are available for parents who make more.
Research results also showed poorer students within the study population performed lower than statewide averages for all students regardless of whether they participated LA 4.
Craig Ramey, a Virginia Tech professor and study coauthor, said education programs for those younger than 4 years old could produce even greater results.
“The scientific evidence definitely supports this idea of expanding early learning opportunities for even younger children whose families and communities lack the resources to provide these,” Ramey said.
Critics of government funded early education programs have argued taxpayer resources would be better spent improving low-performing K-12 public schools and that early education success stories are contingent on many factors, which Ramey conceded.
“I think educators, policymakers, and parents all need to understand that it is not just a single year of Pre-K that produced these positive findings,” he said. “I think high-quality Pre-K sets the stage for greater success but is not the only factor. Parents and schools still matter a lot.”