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Peer-reviewed policy briefs & in-depth policy analysis

Policy Briefs

Trends in State Funded Preschool Programs: Survey Findings from 2001-2002 to 2011-2012


June 1, 2013
AccessEnglish Language LearnersQuality and CurriculumSpecial EducationState & Local
W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D. and Megan E. Carolan, MPP

This policy report, co-released by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), discusses trends in enrollment, funding, and quality standards, as well as English Language Learner and Special Education students, in state-funded pre-K between 2001-2002 and 2011-2012.

NIEER has tracked the policies of state-funded preschool programs through its State Preschool Yearbook from the 2001-2002 through the 2011-2012 school year. The Yearbook has collected information on enrollment, funding, and quality standards, as well as enrollment of English Language Learners and Special Education students in state-funded pre-K.

Key findings from the report:

  • Enrollment increased dramatically for 4-year-olds over the decade, but funding did not keep pace. State expenditure per child fell by more than $1,100, adjusting for inflation.
  • Variability across the states is extreme. Ten states do not fund pre-K. Among those that do fund pre-K, enrollment, standards, and funding differ dramatically. Without federal action these interstate inequalities are likely to persist.
  • States have far less detailed data available to inform policy regarding their preschool programs and the children they serve than they do for K-12 education. For example, many states cannot report total funding for programs, including the contributions of the local schools, or breakdown enrollment by ethnicity, home language, or family income.

This report also provides recommendations for the next decade of state-funded pre-K development.