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Report: Overall pre-K spending grows, but few states make gains in quality, enrollment

April 17, 2019
Linda Jacobson
Education Dive

For the first time, overall spending on public pre-K programs across 44 states, the District of Columbia and Guam tops $8 billion, and 16 states increased per-child funding last year.

But a sizable number of states — 18 — have used a soon-to-expire federal grant program to expand or improve those programs, and not all have plans for how they’ll sustain those efforts, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s (NIEER) annual State of Preschool “yearbook,” released Wednesday.

“It remains to be seen how the loss of federal [Preschool Development Grant] funding will affect access to high-quality preschool for children in low-income families,” write the authors of the report, which ranks states annually on pre-K enrollment, quality and resources. Per-child funding also dropped in more than half of states between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, as well as the average amount spent per-child nationally.

Close to 1.6 million 3- and 4-year-olds attended state-funded pre-K programs in the 2017-18 year, with 85% of those children being 4-year-olds. This year’s report also includes two states — Montana and North Dakota — that operated pre-K programs for the first time last year. Overall, however, there has been little growth in enrollment — half of a percentage point for 3-year-olds and less than a percentage point for 4-year-olds. “Some states are moving in the right direction, but many are standing still,” W. Steven Barnett, the senior co-director of NIEER, said in a statement.

Preschool enrollment also varies widely across the country. The District of Columbia serves more than 73% of 3-year-olds and 85% of 4-year-olds, and Florida, Vermont and Oklahoma enroll more than 70% of 4-year-olds. But 11 states, including Minnesota, Delaware and Arizona, enroll less than 10% of eligible 4-year-olds.