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'Inadequate' State Funding Seen Impeding School Readiness

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A "pattern of inadequate investment'' by states in child care and early-childhood-development services is preventing children from entering school ready to learn and poor families from working and becoming self-sufficient, a report issued last week by the Children's Defense Fund contends.

In a 50-state study, the group found wide variations in spending on early-childhood care and education in fiscal year 1990, ranging from $0.24 per child in Idaho to $152.04 per child in Massachusetts.

But the study showed that half the states spent less than $25 per child, and one-third spent less than $17 per child. Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia all spent less than $10 per child, according to the C.D.F.

The study indicates that only Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont spent more than $70 per child. The next six highest states, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington, spent between $45 and $55 per child.

Even the states with the highest spending on child care and early-childhood education fell far short of serving all eligible children and families, the C.D.F. found. For example, spending cuts in top-ranked Massachusetts have resulted in long waiting lists and growing numbers of families and children being turned away from obtaining services, the report charges.

Half the counties in fourth-ranked Connecticut, moreover, were found to be serving fewer than one out of three eligible families, while New York and California served fewer than 20 percent of eligible children and families.

Half the states ranked in the bottom third on per-child expenditures were from the South, the study showed. But the report notes that some states, such as Florida, spent much more than their neighbors, and that Arkansas and Kentucky in recent years have passed new state preschool initiatives that will increase their per-child spending well beyond the 1990 level.

Federal Aid Seen Inadequate

While new federal child-care aid provided after fiscal 1990 represents "a move in the right direction,'' the study says, it is "nowhere near sufficient to meet the need.''

The report notes, for example, that even with the new federal funds, third-ranked Vermont estimates it will only be able to serve about 35 percent of eligible families.

Comparing state investments on various budget items, the survey revealed that 11 states spent at least 24 times as much on corrections and prisons as on child care and early-childhood education, while 11 states spent over 100 times as much on higher education as on early childhood.

The report argues that inadequate state spending is undermining progress on the national education goal set by President Bush and the nation's governors that, by the year 2000, all children will enter school ready to learn.

"Without an immediate and major new investment in child care and early-childhood development, millions of children will enter the schoolhouse door without the essential help they need to take advantage of their elementary-school education,'' said Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the C.D.F.

The study, which showed that four states did not fund any child-care assistance for low-income parents, said inadequate state and federal investments are also impeding many parents from pursuing training and jobs to become self-sufficient and jeopardizing the quality of care many children receive.

Besides expanding state early-childhood funding, the group recommends fully funding Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, ensuring that federal rules do not impede state efforts to improve child-care safety and quality, funding grants to help license and monitor child-care programs, boosting investments in children's health, and passing a refundable children's tax credit.

Copies of the report, "State Investments in Child Care and Early Childhood Education,'' are available for $4.50 from the C.D.F., 122 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.

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