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STATES SLOW TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO QUALITY PRE-K
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has released
State Preschool Yearbook, providing
state-by-state data on prekindergarten in the 2013-14 school year. The yearbook
finds dramatic differences in both pre-K access and quality among the states.
It is now widely recognized that high quality preschool for 3-
and 4-year-olds is an essential resource in the effort to improve
educational outcomes, especially for low-income and other at-risk
children. Despite this urgent need, NIEER's annual Yearbook shows
that states are moving at a snail's pace to integrate well planned,
high quality preschool into their K-12 public education systems,
and are even slower to coordinate delivery of quality preschool
programs through existing child care, Head Start and public school
classrooms. Across the nation, access to high quality early learning
opportunities depends on the state, and even the community, where
a child lives.
In a 2013
report, the federal Equity and Excellence Commission
called for a
10-year program, led by the federal government, during which states
would dramatically increase their investment in high quality pre-K
to close the nation's early learning gaps. While President Obama
has responded to this call with his federal preschool initiative,
Congress and the states are lagging behind, undermining the national
effort to boost K-12 achievement and close gaps for low-income
children, students of color, and English language learners.
While many state budgets are recovering from the Great Recession,
NIEER reports that total state funding for pre-K increased by a
paltry $116 million nationally, adjusted for inflation. This is
the second straight year pre-K funding has increased, but the investment
is so low that states have yet to fully reverse the impact of the half
billion dollar cut in early education in 2011-2012.
Preschool enrollments also saw very modest growth in 2013-14.
Twenty-nine percent of America's 4-year-olds are enrolled in a
state-funded preschool program. Total enrollment increased by 8,535
children across the nation, but nearly half this increase represents
restoration of the 4,000 seats lost in 2012-13.
State pre-K quality standards showed some improvement in 2013-14.
Three programs -- Oregon, Pennsylvania HSSAP, and Wisconsin Head
Start -- now meet the requirement that assistant teachers have
at least a Child Development Associate credential. Two Pennsylvania
programs that had lost benchmarks regained them this year as temporary
moratoria on professional development were lifted. In two additional
changes, West Virginia met the benchmark for lead teachers with
Bachelor degrees, and Michigan met the benchmark for site visits.
Other notable highlights in the Yearbook include:
- Ten states still do not have any state-funded pre-K program
- In some states, notably Connecticut, California, Florida,
and Nevada, per pupil funding for pre-K decreased in
- Only three percent of 3-year-olds and only 29 percent of 4-year-olds
are enrolled in pre-K.
An ELC priority is advocacy to ensure access to high quality early
education for at-risk children as an essential element of the right
to K-12 public education guaranteed by the constitutions of all
50 states. In 1997, ELC secured the nation's first legal ruling
establishing the right to preschool under the New Jersey Constitution
in the landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation, a precedent that has
been followed by trial courts in North Carolina, South Carolina,
"As a nation, we must face the fact that without high quality
preschool, K-12 achievement will lag behind the performance of
other developed nations, many of which guarantee access to all
of their youngsters," said Molly Hunter, ELC's national program
director. "Every year of delay deprives more children in our country
of the opportunity for school readiness and success."
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