For the second straight year, many states have reduced preschool funding,
access and quality for the nation's 3- and 4-year-old children, according to
data in the "2011 State of Preschool Yearbook," released today by the National
Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).
Even more states continue to deprive millions of young children of access
to the single education reform that experts and educators agree is essential
to closing K-12 achievement gaps for low-income children and children of color:
a well planned, high quality preschool program starting at age 3.
The disturbing trends documented in the 2011 Yearbook reflect the stark reality
that lawmakers in many state capitals continue to resist making the investments
necessary to build comprehensive programs to deliver high quality early education
integrated into their states' K-12 public education systems. Even more troubling
is the evidence that, when faced with dips in the economy, lawmakers will not
hesitate to cut funding for pre-K, despite research demonstrating the gains
made by children who have access to high quality early education.
A few states are bucking the trend, thanks to court rulings that have prodded
governors and legislators to make and sustain investments in preschool programs.
Most notable is New Jersey, where the NJ Supreme Court over a decade ago directed
the State to provide "well planned, high quality" preschool to all 3- and 4-year
old children in poor communities. Over 45,000 children are now enrolled in
Head Start and child care provider and public school classrooms, funded through
the State's K-12 school finance formula, with certified teachers delivering
a developmentally appropriate curriculum linked to the state's K-12 academic
standards. While NJ lawmakers have delayed an expansion of the program, the
court rulings have ensured continuation of stable and adequate funding, making
NJ's "Abbott Preschool
Program" a national model.
State court rulings in Arkansas and North Carolina have advanced access to preschool
in those states as well. In Colorado, a recently concluded trial resulted in a court ruling that recounted the great benefits of high quality preschool and reported key weaknesses in the Colorado pre-K program. The court, in Lobato v. State of Colorado, found that the State's programs do not provide access to enough children and lack crucial features to meet quality standards. This court decision is currently on appeal.
"We all know that low-income children start kindergarten far behind their
more affluent peers, and that we cannot narrow, let alone close, achievement
gaps unless all children have access to high quality preschool at ages 3 and
4," said David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education
Law Center, and lead counsel in the landmark Abbott v. Burke education
"It's high time the states expanded the legal right to education to include
quality early education for all 3- and 4-year-old children, as well as full-day
kindergarten," Mr. Sciarra said. "Without a legal guarantee to early education,
disadvantaged children will be deprived of access to the single most effective
education reform, and our nation will lag behind our global competitors."