The Transition Plan for Pre-Kindergarten

Recent news has concentrated on the merger of the Memphis City Schools (MCS) and Shelby County Schools (SCS) into a unified school district serving all families in the Memphis-area community. In June, the Transition Planning Commission (TPC) released the Transition Plan for the Merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools (2012), a report detailing the proposed actions for establishing the unified district.

Priority One of the TPC is "Every child ready for school." According to the Transition Plan, the mark of accomplishment for this goal is access by 100% of the system's four-year-olds to a high-quality preschool experience. The TPC intends to add 2,500 pre-kindergarten spaces over five years (500 spaces/year), which amounts to a total of 125 new classrooms. The addition of these spaces will allow all of Shelby County's four-year-old children, including but not limited to disadvantaged children, the opportunity to participate in a pre-kindergarten program. The cost of adding these pre-kindergarten spaces is $3 million a year for five years beginning in the fiscal year 2014.

This investment in pre-kindergarten may seem large, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial costs. When compared against children who did not attend pre-kindergarten, children who attend pre-kindergarten programs:

  • Are better prepared for kindergarten
  • Read at grade level in the primary grades
  • Avoid future risky teen behavior
  • Possess higher graduation rates
  • Have a decreased chance of teen pregnancy
  • Possess a higher chance of employment as an adult and increased lifetime earnings
  • Have reduced crime rates
  • Rely less on government support services
  • Have overall better adult health
  • Are less likely to repeat a grade or require special education services

When it comes to test scores, pre-kindergarten also delivers. Impressively, in Oklahoma, students from pre-kindergarten overall scored 16% higher on standardized test scores. Even more impressive, minority groups scored even higher: African American children overall scored 17.1% higher while scoring 28.1% higher in cognitive scores and 15.5% higher in language; Hispanic children experienced an overall 53.6% increase in scores while gaining 54.3% higher cognitive scores and 58.6% higher in language scores.

Coming full circle, these benefits eventually outweigh the costs. According to one study, for every $1 spent on pre-kindergarten in Georgia, $1.59 is saved in budget savings while $5.12 is provided in benefits to private citizens, local, state, and federal governments within four decades. Most importantly, this study is not an isolated estimate. Indeed, in the TPC report, some studies show a public benefit of $6.87 or $7.16 for every $1 invested.

Race to the Top Updates

Last September we also introduced you to the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTP-ELC), a $500 million state-level grant for the provision of high-quality early child care for disadvantaged children (Federal Register). In August 2011, 35 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico applied to receive the RTP-ELC. In December 2011, grants were awarded to the following nine states: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington.2

As recently as April 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Education have invited the next five applicants—Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin—to apply for RTP-ELC grants which will total $133 million. (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).


Shelby County Transition Planning Commission (TPC). (2012). Transition plan for the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. Available here.

U. S. Department of Education (2012). The 2012 Race to the Top fund continues investments in statewide systems of high quality early education programs: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin are eligible for a share of $133 million [Press release]. Available here.