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May 22, 2014

On May 12, 2014, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released its 2013 State Preschool Yearbook, covering policies, enrollment, and funding for state-funded pre-K programs in the 2012-13 school year. This year's report finds states still underfunding preschool programs, which results in limited access and quality.

As NIEER Executive Director Steve Barnett noted, "Our nation has emerged from the recession, but preschool-age children are being left to suffer its effects. A year ago, our data showed a half-billion-dollar cut in funding for state pre-K and stalled enrollment. For 2012-2013, we find that enrollment is down and funding per child, while up slightly, remains stalled at near-historic lows."

Particularly of concern, the report found that:

  • In 2012-2013, enrollment decreased by about 9,000 4-year-olds from the prior year across the 40 states plus D.C. that offer pre-K---despite population growth. This is the first enrollment decrease NIEER has observed in 12 years of reporting the trends.
  • Accounting for only four percent of 3-year-olds and only 28 percent of 4-year-olds, slightly more than 1.3 million children attended state-funded pre-K, 1.1 million of them at age 4.
  • Only four states met all 10 benchmarks for state pre-K quality standards, the same as in the previous year. This remains down from the peak of five states in 2010-11.
  • Weak program standards persist in too many states, including lax standards for teacher qualifications in 23 programs and no limits on class size and/or teacher child ratio in our largest states--California, Florida and Texas.
  • Total state funding for pre-K programs increased by $30 million in real dollars, about a 1 percent increase.
  • State pre-K funding per child increased by $36 (inflation-adjusted) from the previous year, to $4,026.
  • Only 15 states are providing enough per-child funding to meet all 10 benchmarks for quality standards. As only 19 percent of the children enrolled in state-funded pre-K attend those programs, it seems likely that most children served by state pre-K attend programs where funding per child is inadequate to provide a quality education.

On the positive side, the report found that:

  • Twenty (20) states increased enrollment. However, 11 reduced enrollment.
  • Also, for the first time, every state-funded pre-K program had comprehensive early learning standards. This is first of the quality standards benchmarks to be met by all.

While the report covers the most recently completed school year, 2012-13, trends may be looking up since then. NIEER notes that some states have recently made pre-K a priority, with new initiatives passing in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont just this month and a doubling of state pre-K investment in Alabama over the last two years.

New York provides a particularly promising model for state-local collaboration, as leaders at all levels of government came together to prioritize early learning. These stories are a cause for hope and action: "If ever there were a time for leaders at the local, state, and national levels to unite in their efforts to provide high-quality preschool education to our next generation, that time is now," Barnett said.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "Today, nationally, as the NIEER Yearbook shows, fewer than 30 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool programs, and 10 states still do not offer it at all. We must do better. Quality early education can be a game-changer for the kids who need the most support. It's good for them and their families, and for our country's long-term success. Ultimately, it's an investment in our collective future."

The full Yearbook report is available here, along with state-specific pages.

Related Stories:
Drastic State Cuts to Pre-K Put Youngest Learners At-Risk
Preschool Gives Kids A Big Boost and Must Be A Priority
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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