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Early Childhood

National Report: Preschool Spending, Enrollment Up Incrementally

By Lillian Mongeau — May 11, 2015 2 min read
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The 40 states with state preschool programs and the District of Columbia spent $116 million more on public preschool in the 2013-14 school year than they did in 2012-13, according to the annual “State of Preschool Yearbook,” released May 11 by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey. That brought total spending up to $5.56 billion in 2013-14, a 1 percent increase in real dollars over the previous school year.

The report also found that state-funded preschool served 1.3 million children in 2013-14. Four-year-olds accounted for 1.1 million of those. Enrollment increased overall by 8,535 children, with several states increasing enrollment and other decreasing enrollment.

“When you see the reports on what states are doing they always look rosier than what comes out in the yearbook because what’s in the yearbook is what actually happens,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Report authors praised states for new spending and expanded enrollment, but they cautioned that the current rate of growth was too slow to produce significant changes for today’s children:

If pre-K is to be made available to even all children under 200 percent of the poverty level within the next 20 years, state investments will have to grow at a much faster pace. At the 2013-2014 growth rate it would take about 75 years for states to reach 50 percent enrollment at age 4 and 150 years to reach 70 percent enrollment.

A few states made notable policy changed in 2014 and those numbers are not included in the report, though authors do acknowledge the changes. Mississippi and Indiana, two states without 2013-14 state-funded preschool programs, both launched new programs in 2014. Hawaii and Montana, two other states without programs in 2013-14, were recipients of federal grants meant to support state-funded preschool.

Here are some of the other notable findings listed in the latest NIEER yearbook:

  • Across the country, 29 percent of 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool. Including Head Start, 41.5 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled and 14.5 percent of 3-year-olds. The report cautions that these numbers are estimates based on available data.
  • Rhode Island increased enrollment by 63 percent. On the other hand, Alaska decreased enrollment by 16 percent. Most states increased or decreased enrollment by just a few percentage points.
  • In January 2014, Mississippi created a new state-funded preschool program, spending $3 million to enroll 1,774 children. The program meets all 10 of the institute’s quality standards.
  • Washington, D.C. is winning on 3-year-old enrollment. The district enrolls 69 percent of its 3-year-olds in publicly funded preschool.
  • Only five state programs (Alabama, Alaska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and one Louisiana program) met all 10 of the institute’s quality benchmarks. Ten more met nine of the benchmarks.
  • Five states met fewer than half of the quality benchmarks, including California, Ohio, Vermont, Florida and Texas.
  • Spending per child ranged from less than $2,000 in South Carolina and Arizona to $15,732 in the District of Columbia.

The entire report can be found here.

UPDATE 5/12/15: This post has been updated with a quote from W. Steven Barnett and a graphic from the NIEER report.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.