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2015 Preschool Yearbook: Still A Long Way To Go

May 17, 2016
Aaron Loewenberg

Tday the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released its 2015 State of Preschool yearbook. This annual report presents helpful data on the state of pre-K programs nationally as well as breakdowns of each state’s progress in providing high-quality pre-K services to three- and four-year-olds.

The report details modest gains in pre-K access, quality, and funding across the nation. Average state spending per child enrolled in pre-K increased by $287 in 2015 to a national average of $4,489 per child. This is the third straight year in which average spending has increased, though average spending levels are still lower than they were in 2002 and 2004 (as depicted below). Nationwide, state spending on pre-K rose by about $553 million in 2015, an increase of 10 percent. It’s important to note however, that two-thirds of this funding increase is the result of New York City’s rapid expansion of full-day pre-K under the leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The number of students enrolled in state-funded pre-K grew modestly in 2015, with an increase of about 37,000 children bringing the total of all children nationwide enrolled in state-funded pre-K to almost 1.4 million. Most of the enrollment gains produced as a result of the New York City pre-K expansion were canceled out by enrollment cuts in other states. Most of the enrollment growth came from three-year-olds, with only about 7,000 more four-year-olds served in 2015 compared to the previous year.

As shown in the graph below, the percentage of the national population of three-year-olds enrolled in state-funded pre-K modestly increased from 4 to 5 percent, while the percentage of four-year-olds remained flat at 29 percent. Steve Barnett, the Director of NIEER, expressed exasperation at the slow pace of government support for pre-K, writing that at the current rate of growth “it will be another 50 years before states can reach all low-income children at age four, and it will take 150 years to reach 75 percent of all four-year-olds.”