Pre-K Now Wraps Up Work After Decade of Advocacy

States' pre-K spending, early-education priorities key facets of campaign

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After a decade of work and more than $10 million in early-education advocacy, the Pre-K Now campaign sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts will close its doors Dec. 31.

Susan K. Urahn, the director of the Washington-based Pew Center on the States, which launched Pre-K Now in 2002, said the campaign had always been seen as one with a limited, though long, duration.

“We’ve created a proof point, a map, and a model. I think we’ve added about the maximum value that we can,” said Ms. Urahn, who also said Pew would continue to “maintain a careful watch” on state pre-K spending. The Pew center, meanwhile, is in its second year of a campaign to promote state and federal policies that support high-quality, voluntary home-visiting programs for families with infants and toddlers.

Advocates credit Pre-K Now with helping spark substantial growth in state prekindergarten programs over the past decade. While many advocates say they are ready to tackle new efforts to link early learning and K-12 education from birth through 3rd grade, some worry that key data and policy research on early childhood could get lost in the shuffle to find new funding.

Over the life of the Pre-K Now campaign, state funding for pre-K programs increased to $5.4 billion in fiscal 2011, from $2.4 billion in fiscal 2002. In the first year of the campaign, five states’ pre-K programs met eight of 10 national benchmarks set by the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIEER; that had grown to 24 states in 2010.

About 1.3 million children, or 27 percent of the nation’s 4-year-olds, now attend some form of state-funded prekindergarten, up from 700,000 in 2001.

“Pew’s contribution wasn’t a particular model [of pre-K]. They provided proof points and assurance that pre-K was doable,” said Ralph Smith, the executive vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based philanthropy that is involved in initiatives on early childhood and school readiness. Mr. Smith and others credit Pre-K Now with bringing solid research on the benefits of early education to the attention of advocates and policymakers.

Pre-K Now also kept close tabs on states’ spending on pre-K programs and used its website to give advocates a one-stop shop for data, research, and examples of successful state advocacy efforts. Some people in the field fear the end of Pew’s investment will leave a void.

“We need more champions at a very high national level on these issues,” said Lisa Guernsey, the director of the early-education initiative at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank. “There’s some understandable concern there will be a void, at least for a year or two.”

Officials of Pre-K Now disagree. “We feel confident there are really strong and diverse players who will continue to be advocates moving this agenda forward,” said Marci Young, the project director for Pre-K Now. As for data, she said, “we’re working to see if our assets may find a home in other agencies.”

Seeking New Support

However, one such agency that also relied on Pew funds to publish key data is now in search of new support. For NIEER, the research institute, that means looking for new funding for production of its State of Preschool yearbook.

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“We will publish the tenth edition this year,” said Steven Barnett, the executive director of NIEER, based at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, N.J. Although Pew is helping the organization develop systems to reduce the expense of compiling and publishing the yearbook, “we still need to find someone to pay for the long-term cost,” Mr. Barnett said.

Advocates agree that a critical piece of the next stage will be strengthening the links between early learning for infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and children in the early-elementary grades. “The next step has to be looking across a wider age range of children and what they need,” said Ms. Guernsey.

Harriet Dichter, the national director of the First Five Years Fund, who is based in Washington, cited work her organization and others are doing to help states apply for federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants as an example of the next stage after Pre-K Now leaves the field. “People have been preparing and know they’ll be getting out of the mix,” she said.

In a final reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader released last week, Pre-K Now recommended strategies for states to further embed prekindergarten into their education systems and called on Congress to include pre-K in a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “We’re talking about ensuring pre-K is seen as just as essential as second grade or any of the other grades,” said Ms. Young.

Vol. 31, Issue 06, Page 8

Published in Print: October 5, 2011, as After Decade's Work, Advocacy Group Folds Tent
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An earlier version of this article gave incorrect figures for the increase in state prekindergarten spending over the life of the Pre-K Now campaign. Spending increased from $2.4 billion in fiscal year 2002 to $5.4 billion in fiscal 2011, according to Pre-K Now.

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