Enrollment in State-Funded Preschools Rising, Report Says


(Image: WikiMedia, Creative Commons)

In 2014-2015, the number of students in state-funded preschools in the US rose to almost 1.4 million — an increase of 37,167 students from the previous year. Overall, 29% of 3, 4, and 5-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool programs.

A report released from the National Institute for Early Education Research found a wide range of per-pupil spending programs. For example, New Jersey spends $12,149 for each child enrolled in pre-K compared with $2,304 in Florida and $1,981 in South Carolina.

State funding for pre-K rose by $553 million overall in the 2014-15 year. Spending in New York, which implemented universal pre-K education in New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio, accounted for two-thirds of that increase.

The authors of the report say New York City "provides an example of a city that successfully worked with its state to move an entire state forward, though it remains to be seen how much and how fast progress is extended to the rest of New York state."

Karen Matthews of the The Big Story writes that the Institute, which advocates early childhood education, is under contract with the National Center for Education Statistics. The report tracks the quality of measures such as class sizes and teacher-training requirements.

The increase is an optimistic sign for policymakers and educators after a dip in public funding for preschool programs during the Great Recession. According to Rebecca Klein of the Huffington Post, funding for early childhood education has now surpassed pre-recession levels.

All of the news is not encouraging, however. The report reveals that while some states, like New York, have embarked on ambitious early education programs, other states have been far less aggressive. States like Florida and Texas have "moved backwards," according to the report. Indeed, enrollment in their state-funded early education programs have fallen.

"State pre-K is still far from where it needs to be to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education during the year (or two) before kindergarten," the report says. "If young children are to receive the high- quality education that leaves a sustained impact, state policies will have to change. Standards must be raised. Funding should be increased and stabilized. This will happen only if policy makers recognize that high- quality pre-K is a necessity, not a luxury that can be passed over when the budget gets tight."

Going forward, a major area of focus for policymakers will be the pay of early childhood educators. The average yearly salary of an early childhood educator who works in a public school programs is $44,521. These teachers, who are often required to hold a bachelor's degree, make only six dollars per hour more than a fast food worker. Elementary school teachers tend to make $10,000 to $30,000 more than preschool educators.

In lieu of federal action, states and cities have taken the lead in promoting universal preschool. This could change, however, as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed an ambitious plan to boost affordable child care.

Sociologists and researchers have long pointed to the importance of early childhood education in children's academic and social development.

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