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Nationwide bipartisan trend: State pre-K funding increases

February 26, 2016
Economics and FinanceEnglish Language LearnersQuality and Curriculum
Katie Parham

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) recently released its annual report on state pre-K funding for the 2015-2016 year, highlighting a nationwide trend in increased funding allocations by states on pre-K programming for the fourth year in a row. Almost two-thirds of states plus the District of Columbia funded pre-K at higher levels last year than the year prior, which could mean improved access and quality for many of the nation’s youngest learners.

D.C. is the leader of the pack on pre-K funding by a wide margin, allocating $12,407 per prekindergartener, according to the ECS report. The next closest is New Jersey, funding at $10,000 less ($2,943 per capita) by comparison. Arizona increased its overall funding by 116%—the highest nationwide—allocating an additional $19 million last year compared to the year prior. Five states in the U.S. still do not invest at all in pre-K programming:  Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wyoming. (Although, Montana was awarded a federal Preschool Development Grant.) Despite these five holdouts, overall state funding in pre-K programs increased last year by $755 million from the 2014-2015 spending levels to a total of nearly $7 billion.

What does this 12 percent overall increase in spending translate into in real terms? It depends. Pre-K programs vary widely state-to-state. In recent years states have implemented options including universal pre-K, targeted pre-K for children from low-income families, dual language learners, or with special needs, pre-K for three- and four-year olds, full-day pre-K, part-day pre-K, and other school readiness programs, to name a few.