Early Childhood

States That Don’t Fund Public Preschool - Part One

By Lillian Mongeau — December 18, 2014 6 min read
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Ten states had no public preschool program when the National Institute for Early Education Research issued its State of Preschool Yearbook in May, based on data collected for the 2012-13 school year. But that statistic has already changed; two states have since started programs, and another two more were just awarded federal Preschool Development Grants to help them get a preschool program off the ground. We’ll have to wait for the next NIEER report for detailed data on the new programs, but here’s a quick update on five of those states. My co-blogger, Christina Samuels, has put together an update on the other five.

In alphabetical order:


Hawaii actually had a program called junior kindergarten that served 5,000 children, about half of the island state’s 4-year-olds, until this school year. Children had to be 4 years and 7 months old to qualify for that program. But junior kindergarten ended in the summer of 2014 when Act 176, passed in 2012, went into effect.

“Almost all of the testimony [on the bill] from non-profit organizations supporting early- childhood education ... urged lawmakers to ensure there would be replacement programs,” for displaced 4-year-olds, wrote Kim Coco Iwamoto, a former member of the state’s Board of Education in a long column on the history of the issue for Honolulu Civil Beat.

But that was not to be. A constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot to send 4-year-olds to private preschools with public money failed, at least in part because of the strong opposition of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Despite these challenges, Hawaii won an $8.3 million Preschool Development Grant this month from the U.S. Department of Education. The state will have $2.1 million to spend in year one, presumably on figuring out how to add 5,000-plus students back to their public school rolls, since paying for private programs with public funding remains constitutionally barred.

CLARIFICATION (August 3, 2015): It has come to my attention that Hawaii had a very small (420 students in 21 classrooms) public preschool program during the 2014-15 school year. The $3 million program was funded through House Bill 1700. That program was renewed this spring with the passage of House Bill 820, now Act 109. Since this story was first published, Hawaii has also started a program allowing charter schools to open preschool classrooms.


Indiana’s fledgling preschool program will take off in January with a $10 million pilot program expected to serve about 4,500 students in five counties at full capacity.

Only a small portion of those spots will be available on Jan. 4, though. The state planned to enroll between 350 and 400 children in four of the five selected counties in early 2015. Four times as many applications for the limited spots were received, and the Family and Social Services Administration, which runs the new program, is attempting to make a few more spots available, according to an article on StateImpact Indiana.

“Talk about an indicator of need, of desire for high-quality preschool, this is your indicator,” Kim Olesker, a regional director for the United Way of Porter County, told StateImpact. “I’m very excited!

Indianapolis has already taken measures to expand on the program with a public-private partnership plan championed by Republican Mayor Greg Ballard.

It’s worth noting that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has joined with more than a dozen other Republican governors in supporting public funding for preschool in the past several years, may be weighing a run for president in 2016, according to a recent analysis in The Washington Post. If he were to run, and win, that could hearten supporters of preschool as they look to 2016 and the future of President Barack Obama’s preschool initiatives.

And then again, maybe not. Pence recently refused to sign off on an application for the $80 million in federal funding Indiana was eligible to receive in the recent Preschool Development Grant competition.


State Sen. Tim Flakoll, a Republican, has been orchestrating North Dakota’s entry onto the state preschool scene for several years now.

His first big move was to push for the passage of S.B. 2200 in 2007, which funded full-day kindergarten for districts that wanted it. That program launched in 2009. Since then, North Dakota has begun providing some funding for 3- and 4-year-olds to attend preschool and also created a “Gearing Up for Kindergarten” program for parents and children through the North Dakota State University Extension program.

“We’ve been pretty methodical,” Flakoll said. “Quality is much more important than expediency.”

Flakoll has just proposed another bill that would expand services for 4-year-olds in his state. In fact, the bill, which will receive a number and first be heard in January at the start of the next legislative session, would create a state preschool program out of whole cloth, albeit a modest one.

All of the state’s 4-year-olds would be eligible for $1,000 “scholarships” that would go directly to qualifying preschool programs of the parents’ choice. Children from families that would qualify for free or reduced-price lunch in public school would receive a $1,500 scholarship. (Full-time care for 4-year-olds costs less than $7,800 a year, on average, in North Dakota, according to ChildCareAware.org.) Flakoll estimates the proposed program would cost $6 million and serve about 6,000 students. Preschools interested in participating would have to apply to the state and prove that they have at least one certified early-childhood educator on staff.

North Dakota’s strong economy could be a help in persuading lawmakers to agree to the additional outlay of public funds, Flakoll said.


Utah governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, signed a bill, HB96, in March that allows for a public-private funding model whereby the state will take loans from private investors that it pays back with savings produced by providing preschool services. The model is based on evidence that children who attend preschool are less likely to need expensive special education services later on. Under the new program, the savings produced by not providing those services are to be used to pay back the loans.

Utah’s Granite School District, which covers portions of Salt Lake County, pioneered the model several years ago. The first beneficiaries of the Granite program are now in 7th grade and doing well, according to The Deseret News article outlining the new, statewide program.

Other cities have followed suit in going for privately funded loans to pay for preschool, including, most recently, Chicago. So far, Utah is the only state to put such a program in place statewide. The state has set aside $3 million to guarantee any initial loans and to fund the search for private investors.


Wyoming does not have a state-funded preschool program, but does provide some public funding for preschool-age students from low-income families in some school districts. Primarily, these funds are distributed in the form of subsidies for low-income families through the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which requires matching funds from states.

The Wyoming Early Childhood State Advisory Council estimates that more than 30,422 children under the age of 6 need child care. About 1,500 Wyoming children are enrolled in Head Start, according to the most recent National Institute for Early Education Research report. A recent Wyoming Public Media story put the Head Start enrollment number at 2,500.

Activists in the state have been trying to get the various agencies that provide care for young children to work together, but it hasn’t been easy, organizer Michelle Sullivan told Wyoming Public Media.

“As Wyoming people, and really in the West more generally, we do have this idea that if we can just pull ourselves up by the boot straps, everything’s going to be fine. But children don’t choose where they land,” Sullivan told reporter Aaron Schrank.

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