Funding for state-funded pre-kindergarten programs across the country dropped by a total of almost $60 million during the 2010-11 school year despite extensive research showing the benefits of quality early education, according to a newly released report.

In this file photo, children line up before heading into their graduation ceremony for the Pre-K Class at CentroNia in D.C. (Lucian Perkins/The Washington Post)

The drop marked the second consecutive year of state funding decline for early education, despite the use of federal economic recovery funds to bolster these programs. State early education funding had already dropped $30 million during 2009-10.

The report, released by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, says that more children than ever are being served by state early education programs, and it expressed concern that progress made over the last decade in quality improvement in many programs is being lost.

“As enrollments and demand for high-quality pre-K continue to rise, the nation is experiencing a crisis in quality,” the report said. “It is vitally important that the public understand what is happening since only high-quality pre-K is proven to be a good public investment.”

Research has consistently shown that quality early education can offer a wide range of benefits that include improvements in grade retention and high school graduation rates as well as positive effects outside of school, such as lower use of social programs and incarceration.

But economic troubles have resulted in per child spending on early education dropping by $145 in 2010-2011 from the previous year, with a decline of more than $700 over the past decade, the report said. Without the federal funds, average state spending per student would be $100 less. And new budget cuts are certain to result in more cuts to early education programs this year.

Here are some other findings from the report:

• State funding per child for pre-K declined in 26 of 39 states with programs, when adjusted for inflation. Only 11 states increased per-child spending, though the highest state increase was only 9 percent, or $162, in Maine. Eight states cut per-child spending by 10 percent or more from the previous year.

• Only 12 states could be verified as providing enough per-child funding to meet all 10 benchmarks for quality standards. Only about 20 percent of children enrolled in state-funded pre-K attend these programs so that the vast majority of children served are in programs where funding per child may be inadequate to provide a quality education.

• Enrollment increased nationally by 30,818 children. More than 1.3 million children attended state-funded pre-K, more than 1.1 million (or 28 percent) at age 4.

• Enrollment growth nationally continued to slow compared to the overall trend for the past decade.

• Twenty-two states increased enrollment, ranging from 1 percent in Connecticut to 25 percent in Vermont. Ten states cut enrollment, from 1 percent in some states to 12 percent in New Mexico.

Five states fully met [the institute’s] benchmarks for state pre-K quality standards benchmarks and another 15 met at least 8 of 10.

The five states are Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, North Carolina and Rhode Island. Benchmarks include teachers who have earned a bachelor’s degree, early learning standards, at least one meal given to students, and class size of 20 or fewer.

• Two states improved on [the institute’s] Quality Standards Benchmarks.

The two were Georgia and New York.

Eleven states have no state-funded early education programs.

In Maryland, state funding actually rose, from $4,198 in 2009-10 to 4,414 per child enrolled in 2010-11. In Virginia, the report says that funding declined, from$4,305 in 2009-10 to $3,808 in 2010-11.

Washington D.C.’s funding cannot be compared to states because it is a district. Funding per child essentially stayed the same over the two cited years.


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