Several states in the past year have raised their standards for public preschool programs, according to the fourth annual “report card” on state-financed early-childhood education by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
The report, released last week, says that 19 programs in 16 states made policy changes that allowed them to reach more of the 10 quality benchmarks set by the New Brunswick, N.J.-based organization for the 2005-06 school year.
The authors call the states’ actions “a remarkable single-year improvement.”
The pre-K programs in Alabama and North Carolina met all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks, which include providing comprehensive services, requiring teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, and serving at least one meal. Both states reached nine of the benchmarks in the previous report.
Changes made in other states included the development of early-learning standards, the addition of vision, hearing, and health screenings, and an in-service-training requirement for teachers.
The report, however, also points to what the authors say are some troubling developments. Though total state spending on pre-K increased by $380 million in the 2005-06 school year—up to almost $3.3 billion—states were spending on average less per child. That figure declined from $3,855 in 2004-05 to $3,482 last year.
“States face constant temptation to increase the number of children served without a proportionate increase in expenditure,” the report says. “When enrollment increases outpace funding growth, states run the risk that effectiveness will deteriorate.”
Nationally, enrollment in state pre-K programs climbed to more than 940,000 children, and there was a 19 percent increase in the enrollment of 4-year-olds, which was attributed largely to Florida’s new, statewide pre-K program. The program served more than 100,000 children in its first year.
While a few states, such as Illinois, have made a commitment to serve both 3- and 4-year-olds, most state pre-K programs continue to focus predominantly on 4-year-olds. But the report notes that research showing that preschool has long-term benefits for society stems from programs that served children 3 or even younger.
A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2007 edition of Education Week as Report Finds Improvement in Pre-K Area