Funding for early-childhood education declined between 2009 and 2010, even as the Obama administration urged states to increase pre-kindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, according to a study released Tuesday.
Total state funding for such programs declined by $30 million nationwide as states scrambled to make up for budget shortfalls, according to the the National Institute for Early Education Research, based at Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. Meanwhile, state funding for K-12 education increased slightly.
“Overall, state cuts to pre-K transformed the recession into a depression for many young children,” the report said.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged states to cut other programs before removing funding from early-childhood education, but such advice was rejected across the country.
Duncan said yesterday that the cuts present “real challenges to young people who are desperately fighting to enter the mainstream.”
The study found that 26 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in pre-K last year — far below the administration’s targets. Forty states have such programs.
Funding increased slightly in Maryland and Virginia, but Virginia slipped in the report’s rankings, which also consider the quality of state pre-K programs. Maryland’s ranking improved. Meanwhile, per-student funding for pre-K in the District, which is among the highest in the country, decreased slightly.
The report’s authors expressed concern that the situation might become more dire as federal stimulus funds expire.
In 2010, per-child state spending for pre-kindergarten programs was almost $700 below its 2001-2002 level.
Those statistics have prompted concern about whether states can achieve the federal government’s twin goals of increasing enrollment and improving the quality of existing programs.
“This is the most important investment we can make,” Duncan said. “The long-term dividends are tremendous.”