Monday, September 24, 2012

Pre-K and Kindergarten Data Severely Lacking at Local Level

Many states are failing to collect basic information about publicly funded early education programs for young children at the school district level, according to a new report released today from the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative.

The report, Counting Kids and Tracking Funds in Pre-K and Kindergarten: Falling Short at the Local Level, which drew on data collected and displayed by the New America Foundation’s Federal Education Budget Project, found that nearly one-third of states with publicly funded pre-K programs do not make available school district-level data on the amount of money allocated to, or the numbers of children enrolled in, those programs. Data on special education preschool grants awarded to districts were unavailable from a quarter of states.

Kindergarten, assumed to be an integral part of public schools, is also plagued by a lack of information and comparable data. District-level data are unavailable on funding specifically for kindergarten or enrollment that distinguishes between half-day and full-day programs.

Authors Lisa Guernsey and Alex Holt outline problems stemming from the lack of data and make recommendations for fixing the problem, including convening a national group of experts to examine how to create a system that captures better data on kindergarten and includes the variety of publicly funded pre-K programs children attend, including those run by both school districts and community-based organizations, such as non-profits.

The absence of comprehensive, comparable data on pre-K and kindergarten in school districts can have severe consequences.

“To close achievement gaps between disadvantaged and advantaged students, policymakers and educators desperately need these most basic data on enrollment and public funding for all young children,” said Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation. “These data will enhance the public’s understanding of how public dollars are spent, expose disparities in access to early learning, and have the potential to increase educational opportunities for young children.”

The Federal Education Budget Project— which has provided federal education data for states, K-12 school districts, and institutions of higher education since 2007 — expanded today to include data on funding and enrollment for state-funded pre-K programs, Head Start programs, and federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act preschool programs at the state and school district levels. For the first time, these data are publicly and centrally available to the public, the media, and education policymakers.

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