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.
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
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
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
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.