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State Preschool Budgets Cut in Wake of Unprecedented Budget Crises

July 21, 2003

Nearly half of 18 polled states cut state preschool programs in state FY ’04 budgets, with the remaining half funding the programs only at previous year levels, said a leading early education policy expert. A poll taken by the National Institute for Early Education Research, a national early education think tank in New Brunswick, NJ, looked at the status of state preschool programs in the face of unprecedented state budget crises.

“How state preschool programs fared in the budget process could have a direct bearing on their abilities to cope with added programs coming their way,” said Steve Barnett, NIEER director. He pointed out that one proposal in Head Start reauthorization is a pilot project for state takeover of the Head Start program. “The reality is that in the current cash-strapped fiscal climate states may have great difficulty coordinating Head Start programs with their own shrinking programs.”

Of 31 states polled by NIEER, information was obtained on 26 states. Of those, seven had not enacted their ’04 budgets. Among the remaining 19, seven states cut their state funding for preschool while nine left their programs at flat funding levels and three saw increased budgets.

Those three states – Illinois, Louisiana, and New Jersey – increased spending levels for preschool, despite serious budget shortfalls. Louisiana shifted federal funds to preschool while Illinois and New Jersey increased its state funds by $30 million each. New Jersey is under a court mandate to provide high-quality preschool programs.

“The good news is that given the dire straits facing state budgets, out of 26 states, no preschool programs were eliminated. And, an additional nine states were able to keep their budgets from decreasing in this rocky budget climate,” said Barnett. “Clearly, many states recognized the importance of preschool programs.”

“What this really means, though, is that children in 16 out of 19 states will lose state preschool services, when you account for cost-of-living adjustments.”

Barnett said that preschool is a sound public investment generating a return of $4-$7 for every dollar spent in decreased educational costs for special education and repeated grades, increased family earnings, reduced crime rates and more. Thus, cutting preschool programs in response to a budget crisis is penny wise and pound-foolish as it increases costs to taxpayers later on.

The seven states that cut preschool programs were Colorado, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina and Tennessee. States that kept flat level funding were Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Vermont. Seven states had not enacted ’04 budgets at this time: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.

The states dealt with flat or reduced budgets in a variety of ways. For example, the number of children who can attend preschool across states has been slashed, even in states with level funding. In addition, many states took measures such as cutbacks in transportation and comprehensive child development services, and reductions in funding for evaluation, professional development, accreditation support and technical assistance.


The National Institute for Early Education Research is supported in part by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Copies of the report may be found on the NIEER website at