Missed Opportunities: Pre-K Lags for Hispanic Children

April 30, 2012

Hispanic children and families have been hit particularly hard due to recent funding cuts in state-funded pre-K. While the State Preschool Yearbook does not break down data by ethnicity, our data on state efforts combined with other sources paints a troubling picture for Hispanic preschoolers, especially those growing up in a household where English is not the primary language. A survey of Hispanic families shows that Hispanic parents are very likely to enroll their children when voluntary preschool education is available to them, but only 25 percent of Hispanic children at age 3 attend public or private preschool, compared to 43 percent of non-Hispanic children. State pre-K—which serves primarily 4-year-olds—has been important in increasing Hispanic enrollment at age 4, but Hispanic children still lag in access with 64 percent in a public or private program compared to 70 percent for non-Hispanic children.

Twenty-one percent of 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide live in an immigrant family with at least one foreign-born parent. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 6.1 million Hispanic children were living in poverty in 2010, representing 37.3 percent of all poor children. As can be seen in the graph below, the number of Hispanic children living in poverty accelerated sharply during the recession, due in large part to the 11.1 percent unemployment rank seen among Hispanic workers in 2011. The combined impact of being from a low-income family and having limited English proficiency can put these students at a serious risk of school failure, especially if they lack access to a quality preschool program.

Original graphic from the Pew Hispanic Center can be viewed here.

More than half of the nation’s Hispanic population resides in just three states: California, Florida, and Texas.  Unfortunately, preschool programs in these states may not give Hispanic students the boost they need. Florida and Texas have high enrollment levels but low quality standards, which means that thousands of children are enrolled in programs that may not meet their needs. They both have per-child spending levels under the national average of $4,151, which further threatens quality. California’s program has grown rapidly due to including the state’s child care programs under the same umbrella, but per-child spending levels and policy standards are low there, as well.  While many programs may exceed minimum standards, particularly when public schools are the providers, two aspects of these programs are particularly worrisome—class sizes and funding. Texas limits neither class size nor ratio and Florida has been increasing class size. California does somewhat better since it limits teacher-child ratio to a reasonable level even though it does not limit class size. All three states decreased funding per child in recent years, and in Florida it barely exceeds $2,400 per child, a figure too low to sustain quality under any reasonable definition.


4-year-old Enrollment Percent

State Spending Per Child

Quality Standards













Additionally, there are five other states with Hispanic populations above one million: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, as can be seen from this interactive map from the Pew Hispanic Center. Arizona totally eliminated its state pre-K program in recent years, though First Things First stepped up to provide some services to preschoolers there. Illinois and New Jersey are bright spots ranking among the top 15 in the country for program quality standards and both ranking in the top 3 for enrollment of 3-year-olds.  However, both New York and Colorado reduced per child funding when the recession squeezed state finances.

The video below shows the change in enrollment in these states with large Hispanic populations over the last decade. While enrollments have increased tremendously, due in large part to the Florida program’s creation in the 2005-2006 year, we know that funding has not kept pace with the needs of so many more students. You can look at other trends in spending, quality, and access for these eight states in this interactive data set.

As was noted last year by Celia Ayala, Chief Executive Officer, Los Angeles Universal Preschool, “[w]hile ELLs can come from any linguistic background and therefore include children of any race and ethnicity, Hispanic children merit particular attention as their population grows, but many continue to suffer from an achievement gap.”  At least 140,000 ELL students are served in state-funded pre-K programs; this number is likely to be significantly higher as many states with large Hispanic populations could not report ELLs specifically. Less than half of state pre-K programs report limited English proficiency as a factor that may make students eligible for pre-K. The majority of pre-K initiatives require at least one support service for ELLs and their families, with support services ranging from administering a home language survey to providing translators to offering monolingual non-English classes in pre-K.

Recent research on the benefits of bilingualism can bring renewed attention to this important issue. Research has pinpointed significant benefits to bilingualism including increased language and print awareness, classification and reasoning skills, concept formation, visual-spatial skills, and creativity. Bilingual children maintain strong connections to parents, grandparents and extended family leading to improved academic outcomes. Students also benefit from being secure with their home language. There has also been important research in the last few years indicating that attending a high-quality preschool program improves outcomes for Hispanic children, and that dual language practices can enhance outcomes in both English- and Spanish-speaking children. Pre-K attendance can improve early literacy and mathematic skills, and at least this one study found that gains were improved by being in a classroom with a Spanish-speaking teacher.

As the Hispanic student population grows and extends into rural and suburban areas, schools must provide additional supports for those students growing up in a dual-language household. A recent report from the New America Foundation focuses on bilingual education efforts in state-funded pre-K in Illinois and offers sound advice for all pre-K programs as they work to ensure ELLs receive high-quality services:

• ensure that pre-K providers receive financial support from their local districts for resources they spend on English language learners, and that there is an adequate bilingual/ESL budget to cover eligible children;

• track student outcomes for ELL students over time to determine where investment is most (and least) effective; and

• continue to align the ELL experience in pre-K, kindergarten, and the early grades and enable shared professional development opportunities in ELL instruction for teachers and school leaders across the pre-K to third grade span.

Additional recommendations on supporting dual language instruction at both the policy and classroom level can be found in the NIEER presentation “Enhancing Policy and Practice for Young Dual Language Learners: What Is the Research Base?

There is significant support within the Hispanic community to increase access to quality preschool programs.  The National Council of La Raza advocates for supportive programs for both students and families, and international music star and early education advocate Shakira, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, recently spoke at the Summit of the Americas on the need for quality early learning.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

Primero es lo Primero (First Things First): Public-Private Partnerships Invest in Young Children

April 25, 2012

In difficult economic times, public-private partnerships are an important strategy for increasing investments in young children, globally as well as in the United States. I had the opportunity to participate in the recent launch of a new initiative of the national government of Colombia and private organizations called Primero es lo Primero, which translates as “First Things First.” Primero es lo Primero is a partnership of some 30 private and public organizations, including NIEER. Leading the partnership is De Cero a Siempre (From Zero to Always), the national government’s strategy for comprehensive care for children. De Cero a Siempre has a particularly high profile because its spokesperson is Colombia’s dynamic First Lady Maria Clemencia Rodriguez de Santos.

The Colombian government has committed $24 million dollars to start this initiative. Among the private partners, the Mario Santo Domingo Foundation has contributed another $20 million to build 13 early childhood centers in low-income areas across the country, serving 5,929 children under the age of 5. In addition, the aeioTu initiative of Fundación Carulla, a leading provider of early childhood education, will contribute $3.2 million to operating these 13 centers. Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Foundation) and the ALAS Foundation, the two organizations associated with singer-songwriter and ECE advocate Shakira, also make up part of this partnership.

On April 12th, First Lady Maria Clemencia Rodriguez de Santos, Pablo Obregón from the Mario Santo Domingo Foundation, Fundación Carulla president Ken Brotman, ALAS president Alejandro Santo Domingo, Shakira Mebarak, and others publicly announced this new partnership on behalf of young children. As about 56 percent of Colombia’s young children are in extreme poverty, this is an important move in the right direction, one that will enhance the life chances of thousands of children. 

The above picture of the event shows just a handful of the representatives of all the organizations that have come together in Colombia to strengthen their early childhood services and which is unprecedented in Latin America and the world. From right to left, the following individuals represent various types of organizations:

Milagros Nores (Assistant Research Professor, NIEER), Soraya Montoya (Executive Director, Fundación Saldarriaga Concha), Beatriz Londoño (Health Minister), Diego Molano (National Director of Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar), Bruce Mac Master (Director of the Administrative Office for Social Prosperity), Hernando José Buelvas Leiva (Mayor of San Jacinto), Pablo Gabriel Obregón (Fundación Mario Santo Domingo), María Clemencia Rodríguez de Santos (First Lady of Colombia), Alejandro Santo Domingo (President of ALAS), Shakira Mebarak (Founder of ALAS and Pies Descalzos), María Emma Mejía (General Secretary of UNASUR), Elisa Villaroel Acosta (First Lady of Santa Marta), Rosario Ricardo (Education Secretary of Cartagena), and María Fernanda Campo (National Education Minister).

While these and other partners press on to increase investments in quality early learning experiences in Colombia and throughout Latin America, we at NIEER continue to work with Fundación Carulla on research to illuminate best practices for such programs beginning in the first year of life and continuing to age 5, as I discussed in a previous blog post. I find it noteworthy that even as many states in our wealthy nation are cutting early childhood investments, other countries with fewer resources are finding creative ways to grow their commitments to young children. Perhaps creative private-public partnerships can contribute to forward movement in these and other states.

– Milagros Nores, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

Putting the Spotlight on Young Children: NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child

April 23, 2012

This week marks the annual Week of the Young Child celebration, sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). This year’s theme is “Early Years Are Learning Years,” a sentiment we fully endorse!

NAEYC’s website has a treasure trove of materials for the Week of the Young Child, particularly as associated with six focus areas. We encourage you to view their suggested activities and related materials, but we also include some additional relevant resources for each area below.

Raising Public Awareness

Public Policy and Advocacy

Reading and Writing

  • NIEER’s policy brief on early literacy includes a review of the literature and recommendations.
  • Dorothy Strickland, NIEER Distinguished Research Fellow, testified before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on early literacy learning experiences. Read her full testimony here.
  • Dr. Strickland’s presentation for NAEYC on what makes a good book can be downloaded from NIEER’s website.
  • This NIEER blog post includes additional information and resources on literacy.

Violence and Child Abuse Prevention

  • Preschool interventions can have the greatest influence on reducing childhood aggression and preventing youth violence, as described in this report from the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development.
  • High-quality early childhood education can reduce future crime and victimization, as explained in this blog post from NIEER and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
  • The Week of the Young Child also corresponds this year with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department of Justice has more information on this important observance.
  • Fight Crime: Invest in Kids has been highlighting child abuse prevention in their 1560 Campaign.

Child Health

  • This week is also World Immunization Week; find out more about state policies on pre-K immunizations in this blog post.
  • Children’s health is inextricably linked with their diets. Find our more about the growing epidemic of childhood obesity in these blog posts.
  • Because of the connection between children’s nutrition and their ability to function in a classroom setting, many state programs have policies related to meals in pre-K.
  • Early childhood education has been proven to provide better outcomes not only on children’s health while enrolled in preschool programs, but also on their health later in adulthood.
  • For a global perspective, become familiar with advocacy organizations that support child health initiatives and early learning opportunities, such as Shakira’s Barefoot Foundation or UNICEF.

Creativity and Play

  • Arts education can help preschoolers develop in other domains including math, language, critical thinking, and social-emotional, as explained by NIEER’s own Judi Stevenson-Boyd and a group of experts on Caucus: New Jersey.
  • NIEER’s Kim Brenneman provides ideas on how science-based lessons could be delivered through everyday life activities, such as playing with Mr. Potato Head or engaging in a game of golf.
  • The Ultimate Block Party is an event that highlights the importance of play-based learning for young children.
  • NIEER examines the role of technology in children’s play in this blog post and the interaction between play, intelligence, and learning in another post.
  • Learn more about the best ways to use technology to benefit young learners in this position statement from NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College.
  • This presentation from NIEER’s Shannon Ayers and Ellen Frede discusses the importance of learning through play against the backdrop of preschool assessments.

For the Week of the Young Child, we’ll be working on NIEER’s pre-K research, listening to the voices of early childhood and education advocates, and spending time with the young children in our lives. How will you observe this important week?

– Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

Giving Kids a Shot at Success: World Immunization Week

April 20, 2012

Beginning April 21, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching World Immunization Week, a global awareness campaign about the importance of vaccines in preventing diseases like measles and polio.  According to WHO’s website, “immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions and prevents debilitating illness, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases.” An estimated 2 to 3 million deaths are prevented annually due to vaccinations but, as of 2010, 19.3 million infants were not up to date on their immunizations. And, according to the United Nations Foundation, of the nearly 8 million children worldwide under the age of 5 who die each year from preventable diseases, a quarter of those deaths could have been prevented with proper vaccination.

Part of the play therapy center of Drottning Silvias barn- och ungdoms-sjukhus (Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital) in Göteborg, Sweden.
© Jen Fitzgerald

In the United States, the statistics are more uplifting – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011, 95 percent of parents reported that their children got or would get all of their immunizations. However, approximately 5 percent of parents opted to decline some vaccines while 2 percent were not inclined to vaccinate their children at all, despite research from the American Academy of Pediatrics finding no long-term negative consequences to receiving all recommended immunizations.

As parents of preschoolers can attest, most centers require that children’s immunizations be up to date before enrolling. In addition, many programs require other health screenings before or during the preschool years. Pre-K is an important early opportunity to detect vision, hearing, and health problems that may impair a child’s learning and development. With this in mind, NIEER’s quality standards checklist includes a requirement that state-funded pre-K programs provide vision, hearing, and health screenings.  Along with our benchmarks on nutrition and support services, screenings and referrals support children’s overall well-being, including their physical and mental health.

Assuring that children are immunized is one element of comprehensive health screening (the others are health/weight/BMI, blood pressure, psychosocial/behavioral, and full physical exam). For The State of Preschool 2011 report, we specifically asked states about their pre-K policies regarding immunizations. The good news is that 40 state pre-K programs (out of 51 across the nation) require preschool students have immunizations; in addition, the District of Columbia’s two pre-K programs also require immunizations. The remaining state programs typically leave decisions about screenings up to local district discretion. (For more information about screening and referral requirements, see page 178 of Appendix A.)

Figure 1. State Pre-K Programs That Do Not Require Immunizations in State Policy*
California Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts
Florida South Carolina 4K
Kansas Pre-K Pilot Vermont Act 62
Massachusetts Vermont EEI
Nebraska Wisconsin 4K

*This figure does not include states that do not have a state-funded pre-K program. Those states are: Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

Figure 2. State Pre-K Programs Requiring Immunizations
Alabama New Jersey ECPA
Alaska New Jersey ELLI
Arkansas New Mexico
Colorado New York
Connecticut North Carolina
Delaware Ohio
Georgia Oklahoma
Illinois Oregon
Iowa Shared Visions Pennsylvania EABG
Iowa SVPP Pennsylvania HSSAP
Kansas At-Risk Pennsylvania K4 & SBPK
Kentucky Rhode Island
Louisiana 8(g) South Carolina CDEPP
Louisiana LA4 Tennessee
Louisiana NSECD Texas
Maine Virginia
Maryland Washington
Michigan West Virginia
Minnesota Wisconsin Head Start
Missouri D.C. PEEP
New Jersey Abbott D.C. Charter

Still, there are 11 states without state-funded pre-K, and children in those states may be missing out on disease-preventing immunizations until they reach kindergarten or even first grade. The same is true for children who are shut out of state-funded pre-K due to the limited access to programs in many states. A rise in the spread of measles in 2011 indicates that there’s still more work to be done to protect all of our citizens, especially for those traveling internationally where vaccination rates are lower.

As immunizations increase across the globe, more and more children are being offered the chance to grow up healthy. This, in turn, improves their health, happiness, and ability to learn and succeed in school and later in life.

– Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER

Widening Gap in Pre-K Access: Haves and Have Nots

April 17, 2012

Mountains of evidence over years of study have shown that high-quality preschool education helps put kids on the right track for future success in school and beyond, especially those children from low-income families or facing other challenges that put them at a disadvantage.  It could not be clearer, though, from our 2011 State Preschool Yearbook that the disparities in state-funded pre-K are so great as to exacerbate lifelong inequalities among children.

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained at the Yearbook 2011 release, “High-quality early learning is what we want for our own children—which means that it must be what we want for all children.” Despite the impressive enrollment growth in state-funded preschool—nearly doubling to 1.3 million children in a decade—recession-driven funding cuts have made it difficult to give this opportunity to all children.

Using data from the 2011 Yearbook, GOVERNING Magazine created a map that highlights these disparities. States are shaded based on the percent of their 3- and 4-year-old population served in state-funded pre-K. Eleven states offered no state-funded pre-K in the 2010-2011 school year, including Arizona, which became the first state to completely remove it state-funded pre-K program. Of the 39 states that do provide these programs, an additional 15 did not enroll 3-year-olds, which drives down their percentage served compared to the measure of 4-year-olds served. For example, Florida is ranked number 1 in enrollment for reaching 76 percent of its 4-year-olds, a percentage that is slashed in half to 38 percent when combined with 3-year-olds.

Map from GOVERNING magazine. Click here to use it interactively.

This map is a great tool for some quick looks at regional trends—you can quickly see the “hot spots” for enrollment, including the Wisconsin-Illinois-Iowa trio in the Midwest; the “not so hot spots,” such as the Midwest duo of Michigan and Ohio; and the cold spots, including seven Western states that do not offer programs at all. Additional details on enrollment and spending can be found by clicking on the individual state.

Enrollment, however, only tells part of the story: programs of high-quality are necessary to guarantee long-term gains, but quality varies startlingly from state to state. During the 2010-2011 year, only five states met all 10 of our quality standards benchmarks (Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, North Carolina, and Rhode Island), while at the other end of the spectrum, Ohio met only 2. California and Florida met only 3 benchmarks each, which is particularly concerning given that these programs serve each serve more than 100,000 children, including large populations of Hispanic children.

How many preschoolers a program can enroll and what program standards it can effectively meet (i.e., not just on paper) are inherently linked to the funding available. Disparities in resources across states have persisted, contributing to the “haves” and “have nots” in state-funded pre-K. In the report’s executive summary, we say, “Disparities among the states in funding per child are substantial and persistent. In 2001, the difference in spending per child from the highest spending state to the lowest was nearly $9,000. Today, the range is more than $10,000. Massachusetts and Ohio had erratic changes in spending from one year to the next over the decade, but both states ended the period with decreases in pre-K spending of more than $3,000. By contrast, Arkansas and Maryland increased per-child spending over the decade by more than $2,000 each.” Quality, enrollment, and resources do not exist in a vacuum—each factor influences the others in ways that differ by state, but it is clear that too many states are not providing enough per-child funding to ensure quality for the children enrolled in their pre-K programs.

In order to explore these trends more fully, we’ve created a Google Motion chart of interactive Yearbook data. We encourage you to use this animated tool to explore pre-loaded variables on quality, access, and resources across states; you can select a particular state of interest to track its progress relative to other states.

Using our interactive data set via Google Motion Charts, the video above demonstrates the relationship between quality standards met by a state and the state per-child spending over time. On the whole, it’s clear that states have shifted toward meeting more quality standards in 2010-2011 than they did in 2001-2002, though per-child funding has by and large stayed below what is needed to implement these standards and ensure teachers are paid a competitive wage, as presented in Table 7 of the Yearbook.

Education has always been largely funded and controlled at state and local levels, which allows for greater flexibility and a focus based on local needs. However, there is no doubt that such large disparities among states prevent the benefits of early childhood education from reaching all children who could benefit. Given the increasing mobility of American society, the failings of one state to prepare children today is to the detriment of another state’s workforce down the line. We encourage all stakeholders in early childhood education to look at the data not just for their state, but for other states, and reach across state lines to bring best practices home and to their neighbors.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

The State of Preschool 2011: Rising Media Star

April 13, 2012

This week we released The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook, our annual survey of state-funded pre-K, at a press conference at the Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C. This year’s report included 10 years worth of data as well as recommendations for the next decade. Speaking at the press conference, NIEER Director Steve Barnett opened his discussion of the report’s findings by emphasizing the impact of high-quality preschool. “One of the few facts that economists of all stripes agree on is that preschool is a good public investment. It’s an investment that can decrease school failure, cut crime, and increase employment. Today more than ever we need such investments,” he said.

Also speaking at the release of The State of Preschool 2011 was U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who stated, “We cannot continue down the path of cutting investments in early learning and jeopardizing the quality of programs for young children. Budgets are never just numbers. How we spend our resources, especially in tough economic times, reflects our values.” Secretary Duncan was referring to the State Preschool Yearbook’s findings that state spending for pre-K has decreased by nearly $60 million since the past year’s report, and per-child spending is down more than $700 over the 10-year period.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and NIEER Director Steve Barnett: two strong advocates for high-quality pre-K.

Dr. Barnett and Secretary Duncan were introduced at the event by Bancroft Elementary School’s Principal Zakiya Reid who also noted the importance of preschool by saying, “We know that high-quality pre-K works. It helps prepare children for school. And research tells us that high-quality pre-K eventually gives children greater opportunities to graduate from high school and pursue college and good careers. … Families need and deserve for their children to have a great start to their education.”

Following the release, Dr. Barnett and findings from The State of Preschool 2011 were featured in a video from NIEER as well as a segment on NBC news. In NIEER’s video statement, Barnett said, “The key message in this year’s report is that cuts are endangering quality, and quality is what’s responsible for the payoff from preschool.” NBC correspondent Tracie Potts’s video segment ran on several affiliate stations throughout the country.

Besides the NBC coverage, the 2011 State Preschool Yearbook story was picked up by additional national outlets, such as The Washington Post, Governing magazine, The Huffington Post, Time magazine, and Education Week, to name a few.

State-specific findings from The State of Preschool 2011 were also covered in numerous state media outlets, including, but not limited to, The Miami Herald, The Huntsville Times, Chicago Parent magazine, The News & Observer, The Seattle Times, The Charleston Daily Mail, Dayton Daily News, The Press of Atlantic City, Tulsa World, The Times-Picayune, The Orlando Sentinel, Cronkite News, The Washington Examiner, The Tennessean, Oakland Tribune, The Columbus Dispatch,  and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Have you seen The State of Preschool 2011 featured in your state or local media? Let us know where by adding a comment below!

– Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER

NIEER Marks Decade of Study by Releasing State of Preschool 2011 Yearbook

April 10, 2012

Today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined me for the release of The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook at Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C. The new Yearbook not only provides insights on the state of state-funded pre-K for 2010-2011 but also for the entire past decade. Where is the nation headed in preschool education?  How do states compare on access, quality standards, and funding for pre-K?  How much progress have they made over the decade?

Our key finding is that while preschool expansion over the past decade garnered great attention, something else happened that got less notice. Funding slipped as enrollment increased –undercutting efforts to ensure program quality.  Adjusted for inflation, state funding for pre-K programs plummeted by more than $700 per child over the past decade.  The nation took a giant step backward in preschool education even as it appeared to be moving forward.  How did this happen? As many states expanded enrollment, funding did not keep pace. In the past year alone two-thirds of the states cut funding per child.

A decline of this magnitude should serve as a wake-up call for parents and policy leaders about how weak our commitment has become to preparing today’s preschoolers to succeed in school and later find good jobs in a competitive global economy. What makes this particularly striking is that over the past decade the evidence that high-quality preschool education is a good public investment has grown substantially. We now understand that the important difference is between great programs and middling programs; the gain from upgrading from low to moderate quality means far less to a child’s future success.

As always the State Preschool Yearbook provides many details about access, quality, and funding.  Here are some of the most important.

  • Over 1.3 million children now attend state-funded pre-K, and enrollment at age 4 doubled over the past decade. State pre-K serves 28 percent of 4-year-olds. Combined with Head Start and other public programs, enrollment is up to 45 percent as a national average.
  • Far less progress has been made in pre-K enrollment at age 3.  It is barely higher than it was a decade ago — 4 percent in state pre-K, and no more than 20 percent across all public programs.
  • Behind the national averages are huge disparities in pre-K enrollment from one state to another. If you are lucky enough to be born into one of the top states you most likely go to pre-K at age 4. Yet, 11 other states fund no state pre-K at all.  And, the majority of states still offer no funding for pre-K at age 3.
  • The recession clearly has slowed progress toward increasing enrollment. A number of states that committed to serving all children have made little progress in the last several years and others have actually cut enrollment. Four Midwestern states—Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio—serve fewer 4-year-olds than they did a decade ago.
  • We assess state policies against 10 benchmarks for adequate program quality standards.  In 2010-2011 five states met all 10 and 15 more states met 8 or 9.   That’s the good news. However, while two states improved on quality standards, four states fell back for a net loss.
  • The decline in quality standards is no surprise. Last year, real funding per child dropped $145. Total funding for pre-K fell by $60 million, adjusting for inflation.

These are troubling signs.  Research tells us the only pre-K programs that really help children prepare for school are high quality.  So, it’s wonderful that more children have access to pre-K classes. But most states don’t serve nearly all those who could benefit. And, many states that make pre-K available to large numbers of children fail to ensure that these are high-quality programs. It’s time for us to step up as a nation.  The research is quite clear: failure to prepare children for school success is far more costly than providing high-quality pre-K.  Ultimately, high-quality pre-K means a better-educated, more competitive workforce, healthier communities, and less money spent on school failure, welfare, and prisons.

All we’re asking is this: as states begin to recover economically, they should expand high-quality pre-K and invest more in these effective programs. By the end of the next decade voluntary high-quality public pre-K should be a choice for every American 4-year-old and for all 3-year-olds in poverty.

I usually stick just to the numbers, but it helps to understand the situations of the real people behind these numbers. I get letters and emails from parents desperate to find a quality preschool program for their children. I even got an email from a big sister who didn’t want her younger brother to have the same troubles she did starting school unprepared. Usually, they are families who earn enough to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, but don’t qualify for Head Start or many state-funded pre-K programs because they are not below the poverty line. Yet, they can’t afford quality pre-K on their own—there just isn’t enough left over in their paychecks after the rent has been paid.  They know their children would benefit from attending a good pre-K, but they can’t get into one.

Some states are already moving forward to change this situation — Georgia, Iowa, Vermont, and West Virginia have made remarkable progress despite the recession. Alabama and Rhode Island are poised to move ahead with increased access to top-quality programs. They demonstrate that progress can be made even in difficult times. Georgia also demonstrates how precarious progress can be. After finally making its way to the top for quality standards, it increased class size and cut the length of the school year due to limited lottery funds in the current year.  Similarly,North Carolinahas become a pre-K battleground as budget cutters slash enrollment and cut funding in a state that was once a national leader in early education.  This backsliding and the low standards and funding that characterize some massive state pre-K programs (Florida, for example) are the reasons we publish the Yearbook so that parents and everyone else can see exactly what their public officials are doing, or not doing, to invest in their children.

This is the second year in a row that Secretary Duncan has joined me for the release and his remarks were characteristically supportive of preschool education. He emphasized the importance of expanding access to high-quality early learning programs as an “investment that benefits us all.” Media interest in the report has been high and we’ll be carrying some of the coverage on our new web site.  Many thanks to the NIEER web site development team and the Yearbook team, both of whom worked many, many hours to get both the Yearbook and the web site ready in time for this release that marks a decade of commitment to high-quality preschool education!

– Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER

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