Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Economy Threatens Impressive Expansion of State Pre-K Programs

/PRNewswire / -- The annual survey of state-funded preschool programs shows impressive expansion in enrollment and spending. However, the recession may reverse the trend, curtailing early education opportunities for children in lower- and middle-income families.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released The State of Preschool 2008 at a news conference today. Key findings:

-- Enrollment increased by more than 108,000 children. More than 1.1
million children attended state-funded preschool education, 973,178 at
age 4 alone.
-- Thirty-three of 38 states with state-funded programs increased
-- Based on NIEER's Quality Standards Checklist, nine states improved the
quality of their preschool programs. Only one fell back.

-- State pre-K funding rose to almost $4.6 billion; from all reported
sources to $5.2 billion, an increase of nearly $1 billion (23 percent)
from 2007.

Whether or not a child receives high-quality preschool education depends on where his or her family lives. Twelve states provided no state-funded preschool in 2008. The report found a decline in the number of states providing sufficient funding to meet NIEER's quality benchmarks.

Based at Rutgers University, NIEER has produced an annual report on state preschool programs since 2002.

Due to declining state revenues, the immediate future of state-funded preschool is uncertain. Generally, expenditures on pre-K are discretionary and easier to cut than expenditures for K-12 education and other programs.

NIEER Director Steve Barnett said states are considering cutting enrollment, reducing program standards, and postponing expansion plans even with the availability of new federal stimulus funds.

Of 38 states with state-funded preschool, cuts are likely in at least nine.

"A federal initiative is needed to support early learning and development," said Barnett. "We propose that the federal government commit to doubling growth in state pre-K while raising quality standards so that by 2020 all 4-year-olds in America will have access to a good education."

To do this, the federal government should match state spending with up to $2,500 for each enrolled child in state pre-K programs meeting basic quality standards. The federal government also should facilitate increased integration of child care, Head Start, and state pre-K.

Research shows that high-quality pre-K can help improve the educational success of all children, decrease dropout rates and crime and delinquency, and improve economic productivity and health.

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