U.S. States are drastically underfunding preschools

Preschool funding reached ‘state of emergency’ in 2012

Mon Apr 29, 2013 5:3PM

States are drastically underfunding programs for their youngest learners now more than ever, according to a report released Monday, even as researchers and policymakers increasingly point to pre-school as a ladder to the middle class.

Funding per student for state pre-school programs has reached its lowest point in a decade, according to “The State of Preschool 2012,” the annual yearbook released by Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research. “The 2011-2012 school year was the worst in a decade for progress in access to high-quality pre-K for America’s children,” the authors wrote. After a decade of increasing enrollment, that growth stalled, according to the report. Though the 2011-2012 school year marks the first time pre-K enrollment didn’t increase along with the rate of population change.

“The state of preschool was a state of emergency” in 2012, said Steve Barnett, NIEER’s director. Between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, pre-K spending on state programs dropped by more than $548 million overall, and $442 per student (to $3,841) when adjusted for inflation, according to the report.

This means state pre-K funding per child has fallen more than $1,100 in real dollars from 2001-2002. “That’s the lowest since we’ve been tracking pre-K,” Barnett said. He called the cuts “severe” and “unprecedented.” This is the first time NIEER has seen average, per-student spending slip below $4,000.

The data shows a situation so dire that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and American Federation of Teachers union president Randi Weingarten are expected to discuss NIEER’s findings at a Monday event. “Our youngest learners will not be college- and career-ready if we slash preschool dollars,” Duncan has said of the cuts.

Early childhood education has been tied to better life outcomes. In 2012, several police chiefs highlighted the need for more and better preschool as a tool for long-term crime reduction. University of Chicago professor James Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, has demonstrated that every dollar spent on quality early childhood education yields a 7 to 10 percent return on investment as students graduate and begin contributing to the economy.

And the NIEER report comes as President Barack Obama tries his hand at a dramatic expansion of preschool programs, as first reported by HuffPost in January. In Obama’s 2014 budget, the administration proposed “Preschool for All,” a plan that would incentivize state spending on “high-quality” pre-K slots for 4-year-olds living below 200 percent of the poverty line by providing matching federal funds, paid for in part by an increase in the tobacco tax. The Huffington Post

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