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EDUCATION JUSTICE - ELC's National Program May 14, 2015
 
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STATES SLOW TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO QUALITY PRE-K

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has released its 2014 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 2013-14.
  • 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, and Colorado.

"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."

Related Stories:

Education Law Center Press Contact:

Molly A. Hunter

Education Justice, Director

mhunter@edlawcenter.org

973-624-1815, x 19

 
     
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