Early-Ed. Measures Percolate at State, Local Levels

By Christina A. Samuels — March 15, 2016 4 min read
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney shakes hands with a prekindergarten student at Rising Stars APM Preschool in North Philadelphia, during a March appearance to promote his plan to increase early education funding in the city.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has a sweet idea to boost early-childhood education in his cash-strapped city.

In his first budget address, the freshman mayor proposed a 3 cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks that he says would generate $400 million over the next five years, more than half of which would be allotted to universal prekindergarten in the city.

“There is simply nowhere else to find this revenue. We all know we can’t raise property taxes again,” said Kenney in his March 3 address.

Philadelphia’s proposal to expand prekindergarten is just one of several ideas percolating among city and state leaders around the country during this legislative year. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 450 bills with some tie to early childhood are pending in 46 states.

At this early stage, it’s unclear how many of those proposals will be enacted into law. But if local and state lawmakers follow the trend of previous years, many places will see increased early-childhood investment.

Rise in Spending

Students in Elizabeth Chico’s prekindergarten class read books on the carpet at Rising Stars APM Preschool in North Philadelphia.

In a report released in January, the Education Commission of the States, which tracks state policy, found that state funding for preschool programs increased by $755 million between fiscal 2015 and 2016, for a total of nearly $7 billion. An increase was seen in 32 states and in the District of Columbia. The state increases in funding also appeared to be bipartisan, with 22 states that have Republican governors and 10 with Democratic governors allotting more money to early-childhood education for fiscal 2016.

“Not only has the funding level been going up every year, but we’re seeing additional states every year who were not funding pre-K at the state level starting to do that,” said Emily Workman, an analyst with the commission who co-wrote the report. The number of states that do not provide any state funds for preschool now stands at just five: Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Bipartisanship is on display in Minnesota, where Republican and Democratic lawmakers last week proposed the “A Better Chance,” or ABC Act, which would expand access to prekindergarten scholarships that low-income children could use at public or private programs. It would also fully fund the state’s quality-rating system, which ranks early-childhood programs, and home-visiting programs.

In 2015, the National Institute for Early Education Research said that Minnesota ranked last in terms of access for 4-year-olds among the states that paid for preschool programs. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is planning to make early childhood a priority again this legislative year and is eyeing the state’s $900 million budget surplus to help pay for it.

Nonfiscal Approaches

Program expansion is not the only policy prescription on the table. In Tennessee, lawmakers have offered proposals they say will help make the state’s program better. A bill pending in the House of Representatives would require the state’s prekindergarten program to offer teacher professional development, more parent-engagement programs, and a coordinated plan between preschools and elementary schools.

The bill is intended to address some of the problems raised in a multiyear study released in 2015 from Vanderbilt University. Researchers found that children who attended the state’s voluntary Pre-K program started off school strong, but that by kindergarten, were generally indistinguishable academically from comparable peers who did not enroll in the program. By 3rd grade, the children who attended pre-K were performing worse on some academic and behavioral measures than similar classmates who were never in the program.

In New Jersey, legislators are considering a bill to require every district to offer a full-day kindergarten program. Currently, about 20 percent of school districts do not. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, a Democrat, has also submitted a bill that would expand free early education to 3- and 4-year-olds in up to 17 additional districts. Thirty-one poor urban districts in the state currently have state-funded preschool as part of a settlement on an educational equity case.

Federal Proposals

At the federal level, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget includes a $434 million increase for Head Start, for a total of $9.6 million. The money would be used to support expansion of Early Head Start, which serves pregnant women and children up to age 3, as well as the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. Those partnerships link federal Early Head Start programs with private providers in an effort to increase the number of high-quality child-care slots. The increase would also be used to help more programs set up full-year, full-day offerings.

The budget also proposes small increases to special education programs overseen by the U.S. Department of Education that are aimed at infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. And it would provide an additional $400 million in the upcoming fiscal year to the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

The continued focus on early-childhood education nationwide is gratifying, said Laura Sparks, the executive director of the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation, which has supported early-childhood programs in the city for 40 years.

“Cities and states are realizing if they want to invest in our future, this is one of the most effective and efficient ways to do it,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2016 edition of Education Week as Early-Education Measures Percolating at State, Local Levels


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Opinion 'Jargon' and 'Fads': Departing IES Chief on State of Ed. Research
Better writing, timelier publication, and more focused research centers can help improve the field, Mark Schneider says.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Electric School Buses Get a Boost From New State and Federal Policies
New federal standards for emissions could accelerate the push to produce buses that run on clean energy.
3 min read
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet reduces over 120,000 pounds of carbon emissions and leverages The Mobility House's smart charging and energy management system.
A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency sets higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles. By 2032, it projects, 40 percent of new medium heavy-duty vehicles, including school buses, will be electric.
Business Wire via AP
Federal What Would Happen to K-12 in a 2nd Trump Term? A Detailed Policy Agenda Offers Clues
A conservative policy agenda could offer the clearest view yet of K-12 education in a second Trump term.
8 min read
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 9, 2024, in Rome, Ga. Allies of the former president have assembled a detailed policy agenda for every corner of the federal government with the idea that it would be ready for a conservative president to use at the start of a new term next year.
Mike Stewart/AP
Federal Opinion Student Literacy Rates Are Concerning. How Can We Turn This Around?
The ranking Republican senator on the education committee wants to hear from educators and families about making improvements.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty