Pandemic Threatens Current and Future Funding for State Preschool Programs

Cuts May Occur When Children Most Need Preschool

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The pandemic’s impact on state budgets and preschool enrollment threatens future funding for preschool programs, similar to the years of cuts to preschool following the great recession, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

“The decline in preschool enrollment is troubling on many levels,” said Assistant Research Professor GG Weisenfeld. “States must act to stabilize state-funded preschool and support children who have missed more than a year of in-person education.”

Enrollment declines and threats to preschool funding pose major problems for states. Children will return to school less prepared for preschool and kindergarten and programs are postponing expansion and improvements plans.

“States can improve enrollment and raise teaching quality by protecting and increasing funds for preschool,” said Weisenfeld.

In most states, funding for preschool is determined by enrollment or attendance. Some states have begun addressing potential revenue declines through “hold harmless” policies that preserve preschool funding and initiatives that support and expand preschool. Oregon, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have increased the number of children who have access to preschool during the 2020-2021 school year.

States have taken advantage of federal funding opportunities to temporarily supplement preschool and unexpected pandemic-related costs, but Weisenfeld says they need to do more.

“They also need to address how to support young children who have missed preschool or who only attended remotely and ensure children with disabilities are identified and receive services to which they’re legally entitled,” says Weisenfeld.

More generally, states need to invest in high quality teaching that meets children’s individual needs and is especially important now because a pandemic-induced spike in child social and emotional problems will likely continue when children return to school in the fall.

The National Institute for Early Education Research ( at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy and practice through independent, objective research.

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Get the report here.