Policy Brief/Analysis

Trends in State Funded Preschool Programs

Survey Findings from 2001-2002 to 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.

The Authors

W. Steven (Steve) Barnett is a Board of Governors Professor and the founder and Senior Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. Dr. Barnett’s work primarily focuses on public policies regarding early childhood education, child care, and child development.