Comparing the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress fourth-grade scores in reading with the results from before universal preschool was instituted [in Georgia and Oklahoma] shows that students either fell behind or failed to catch up with the national average. In 1998, the year universal preschool began in Oklahoma, the average score was 219 — six points ahead of the national average. By 2009, the average score had dropped to 217, even as the national average shot up to 220. In Georgia, where universal preschool became available in 1995, student scores did improve, from 207 in 1994 to 218 in 2009 — from five below to two below the national average, hardly a dramatic boost. If universal preschool confers lasting academic benefits, shouldn’t those benefits have shown up in these states’ test scores, considering that very few states offer widespread public preschool?
The fourth-grade math scores also failed to show significant progress. In 1992, Georgia was three points behind the national average, and in 2009, remained three points behind. Oklahoma, which was tied with the national average in 2000 (two years after the program was begun, but before any of the students could have reached fourth grade), is now two points behind. Looking at the data from these two states and other government-funded preschool programs in a 2009 Heritage Foundation backgrounder, policy analyst Lindsey Burke concluded that “a broader examination of research evidence from existing preschool programs casts doubt on supporters’ claims that new spending on universal preschool programs will yield meaningful long-term benefits for students.”
It is "exceedingly difficult to end ineffective education programs," she concludes. "Both Georgia and Oklahoma are right-leaning states, and both face budget problems ... but both continue to generously fund preschool. In 2009, Georgia spent $332 million, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research, averaging $4,239 per student. Oklahoma spent $147 million, averaging $4,084 per student."