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May 1, 2013

State funding for pre-K decreased by over half a billion dollars in 2011-2012, the largest one-year drop ever, says a new study from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), which has tracked state pre-K since 2002. "The State of Preschool is a state of emergency," said NIEER Director Steve Barnett.

The State of Preschool 2012 yearbook cited two other "firsts": (1) After a decade of growth, enrollment in state pre-K has stalled; and, (2) despite stagnant enrollment, state funding per child fell to $3,841 --- well below the $5,020 national average in 2001-2002 (inflation-adjusted).

"Even though the nation is emerging from the Great Recession, it is clear that the nation's youngest learners are still bearing the brunt of major budget cuts," Barnett explained. Reductions were widespread, as 27 of 40 states with pre-K programs reduced funding per child in 2011-2012. Headlining the bad news on enrollment, North Carolina slashed available places in its preschool program by 19 percent.

Programs also lost quality as financial support declined. Seven programs lost ground against benchmarks for quality standards while only three gained. Only 15 states plus the District of Columbia provided enough funding per-child to meet all 10 benchmarks for quality standards. And, only 20 percent of all children enrolled in state-funded pre-K attend those programs.

More than half a million children, or 42 percent of nationwide enrollment, were served by programs that met fewer than half of NIEER's quality standards.

Education in the years before kindergarten plays an important role in preparing our youngest citizens for civic participation in their communities and productive lives in the global economy. Yet, our nation's public investment in their future through pre-K has declined during the recent economic downturn. And, that's at the very time that parents' financial capacity to invest in their children has been hardest hit. 

America will pay the price of that lapse for decades to come. Barnett also noted that "while the recession greatly exacerbated the decline in funding, there was already a general trend in the states toward declining funding for quality."

In this respect, President Obama's new universal pre-K proposal is especially timely. "We have studied the President's plan and find it provides states with strong incentives to raise quality while expanding access to pre-K. The plan would assist states already leading the way, states that lost ground during the recession, and the 10 states that still have no state-funded pre-K," he said.  

Rare good news from the study shows that West Virginia, Michigan, and Wisconsin expanded their preschool programs to serve more children, while California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio improved the quality of their state-funded preschool offerings. West Virginia served 61 percent of its four-year-olds in 2011-12 and plans to serve 71 percent in the fall of 2013, as it continues towards its goal of universal access.

Related Stories:
As States Slash Pre-K Programs Time to Make High Quality Early Education a Legal Right
Preschool Gives Kids a Big Boost and Must Be a High Priority
Pre-K Trends Downward
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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