Friday, May 13, 2016

State funded pre-K is back on track in some states, but even worse in others

The 2015 State of Preschool Yearbook  is the newest edition of our annual report profiling state-funded prekindergarten programs in the United States. This latest Yearbook presents data on state-funded prekindergarten during the 2014-2015 school year as well as documenting more than a decade of change in state pre-K since the first Yearbook collected data on the 2001-2002 school year. The 2015 Yearbook profiles 57 state-funded pre-K programs in 42 states plus the District of Columbia and also provides narrative information on early education efforts in the 8 states and the U.S. territories that do not provide state-funded pre-K.

Nationally, the 2014-2015 school year showed continued improvement in state funded pre-K as states recovered from the Great Recession. Enrollment increased. More states met the benchmarks for minimum quality standards. State funding for pre-K increased: for the third year in a row, spending per child exceeded the previous year.  Does this mean that state funded pre-K is back on track after being derailed by the recession? In some states, the answer seems to be a clear “yes.” New York is the most obvious example, but other states made noteworthy progress with enrollment, quality standards, and funding.  However, not all states moved forward.  Some even moved backwards, including two of the nation’s most populous states, Texas and Florida. 

For the nation as a whole, this means that access  to a high-quality preschool program remained highly unequal, and this situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future unless many more states follow the leaders.

Enrollment rose very modestly, growing by 37,167 children overall with most of the growth among 3-year-olds, and just 7,091 4-year-olds added.  New York, Michigan, South Carolina, and Alabama added large numbers of children at age four, while Connecticut had a program newly qualify as state pre-K, and Mississippi and Hawaii joined the states funding pre-K. Other states—Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wisconsin—decreased enrollment significantly. 

 Quality standards hit a new high. Six programs gained a quality standards benchmark and no programs lost benchmarks. Two Louisiana programs now meet the requirement for site visits as part of their program monitoring. Nebraska now requires that programs provide at least one meal per day and Missouri began requiring all teachers to receive at least 15 hours per year of professional development. South Carolina’s 4K program now meets the quality standard benchmark for lead teacher degree. West Virginia now meets all 10 benchmarks, and with Mississippi in the rankings for the first time, this raises the number of state programs that meet all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks for acceptable quality standards to 7.  

 State funding for pre-K rose by more than $553 million in 2014-2015, adjusted for inflation, with almost two-thirds of this increase accounted for by New York. Total funding has now surpassed the peak pre-recession level, adjusting for inflation. States’ investments per child also continued an upward trend, with the largest single year increases in nearly a decade.

Key Findings:

• Total state funding for pre-K programs increased to $6.2 billion, an increase of more than $553 million across the 42 states plus D.C. that offered pre-K in the 2014-2015 year, a 10 percent increase in real dollars. Two thirds of this increase comes from New York, up $358 million (inflation-adjusted) from the previous year, due largely to new investments in quality full-day preschool in New York City. 

• State pre-K funding per child increased by $287 (inflation-adjusted) from the previous year to $4,489. New York again had a noticeable impact on the national average from its large increase in funding per child to raise quality and provide a full day program.

• In addition to New York, Michigan increased funding by $62 million, and 8 other states reported increases of more than $10 million. On the other side, 4 states reported reductions in spending of more than $10 million each.

• Nearly 1.4 million children attended state-funded pre-K, nearly 1.2 million at age 4. Almost five percent of 3-year-olds and 29 percent of 4-year-olds were served in state-funded pre-K.

• Across all public programs–Pre-K general and special education enrollments plus federally funded Head Start–41 percent of 4-year-olds and 16 percent of 3-year-olds were served.  Since 2010, total enrollment in these programs at age 4 has risen by just one percentage point and enrollment at age 3 by one percentage point as well.

• Enrollment has grown little in recent years because unstable funding in many states does not support growth year after year. Instead, each year some states increased enrollment, while others made cuts. In 2014-15, 13 states (15 looking at just 3- and 4-year-olds) reduced enrollment with Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin cutting enrollment by more than 2,000 children each.

• Six programs improved against NIEER’s Quality Standards Benchmarks checklist and six states plus one program in Louisiana now meet all 10 benchmarks for minimum state pre-K quality standards. West Virginia and Mississippi are the newest states to earn all 10 benchmarks. 

• Also on the plus side, the states meeting all 10 minimums for quality standards include some with the highest percentages of children in poverty (e.g., AL, MS, LA, NC, and WV). 

• On the downside, California, Texas, and Florida have the highest numbers of children in poverty, serve the largest numbers of children, and have some of the lowest quality standards in the nation.

Major Developments:

• Hawaii and Mississippi joined the vast majority of states in offering state-funded pre-K. Indiana began serving students in state-funded pre-K through two pilot initiatives in 2014. Although Indiana is not included in the rankings because these are small pilot programs, it is a noteworthy addition.

• New York’s accelerated policy development sets an example for other states. In one year they added over 13,000 new spaces, greatly expanded access to full-day services, and put in place new policies and practices to support high quality. To do this, the state invested an additional $358 million dollars and raised funding per child by 70 percent.

• The District of Columbia served more 3- and 4-year-olds than ever in 2014-2015, but the percentage of the population served nevertheless fell. Census data reveal that the number of preschool-age children (but not older children) in the District has increased since the District introduced new policies to support high quality pre-K for all. It appears families are voting with their feet (and housing choices) for high-quality, full-day, universal pre-K in the District of Columbia.

• Also good news is the continued expansion of California’s Transitional Kindergarten, though not counted as state pre-K it serves children who are too young to enter kindergarten. By itself this program would add 77,274 children to the pre-K rolls, raising the national percentage served to 31 percent of 4-year-olds and adding $604 million to funding for a grand total of $6.8 billion nationally.

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