Education Funding Opinion

Early Learning Challenge is NOT About Pre-K

By Sara Mead — January 18, 2012 1 min read

Last year, when the administration announced that it was going to devote $500 million in Race to the Top funds to the Early Learning Challenge Grant competition, a bunch of K-12 reform folks asked me about the “pre-k Race to the Top.” And I always had to start out by explaining that, “actually, Early Learning Challenge is not a pre-k program, but is more about building statewide systems and improving child care quality across the range of programs serving 0-5 year olds"--which was about when my K-12 focused friends’ eyes started to glaze over.....

So maybe this chart (click to enlarge) will make it easier for people to understand. The above chart maps states’ scores on the ELC competition (on the Y axis) against their percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds in pre-k, as reported by the NIEER yearbook (on the X axis). States that were ELC winners are in yellow.

As you can see, having a high percentage of students in state pre-k didn’t translate to high ELC scores. That’s not really surprising: Like I said, ELC is about systems-building and childcare quality more than pre-k, and there weren’t very many places where having a lot of kids in pre-k could translate into additional points.

What is surprising is that having a high percentage of kids in pre-k almost seems almost to have been a liability in the ELC competition. None of the states with the highest rates of state pre-k enrollment were among the winners, and none of the winning states had more than 20% of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-k. If anything, when you ignore the states that have both no pre-k and very low ELC scores, the chart almost suggests a negative relationship between a state’s pre-k enrollment and ELC performance.

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