Early Childhood Opinion

New Pre-K Yearbook Documents State Pre-K Cuts

By Sara Mead — April 10, 2012 1 min read
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The National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual “State of Preschool Yearbook” today. The report, which my colleague Andrew Rotherham teased at TIME last week, is a comprehensive national look at spending, enrollment, and a host of other features in state-funded pre-k programs.

The big headline for this year’s report is that states cut spending on pre-k in 2010-11: To the tune of some $50 million in nominal terms and $60 million after adjusting for inflation. At the same time, state pre-k enrollment increased nationally--and in 22 states--bringing the total number of children served to 1.3 million, or 28 percent of 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds.

Put those two trends together, and you have declining average spending per-pupil on pre-k--continuing a decade-long trend. Ten years after NIEER began publishing its annual report, average state spending on pre-k is over $700 less, in inflation adjusted terms, than when NIEER started reporting. That broad trend glosses over considerable variation in states, but it’s still troubling.

After a decade of pre-k advocacy, barely more than one in four 4-year-olds attends state-funded pre-k, less than one in 20 3-year-olds do, and the average spending of $4,847--taking all funding sources into account--is less than half of what K-12 public schools spend and not enough to ensure a high-quality educational experience for these children. Add on top of that an environment where state policymakers are cutting funds for pre-k and child care, and you get a pretty bleak picture for America’s youngest learners--one that $133 million in federal funds for Early Learning Challenge is hardly going to change.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.