A new report released Monday shows that funding for preschool programs across the country fell by an unprecedented $500 million in the 2011-12 school year as enrollment stalled and more programs saw a drop in quality than improvement.

The report also says that in 2011-12, the latest year for which information is available, only 28 percent of all 4-year-old children in the country were in state-funded preschool programs, and 15 states actually reduced pre-K enrollment. D.C. public schools served more 4-year-olds in preschool than 15 states with programs, and more 3-year-olds than all but five states, it says. (See D.C., Virginia and Maryland reports below.)

With research showing that quality early childhood education is important in later student achievement, President Obama has made universal preschool for all children in lower- and middle-class families an education priority for his second term. But funding has worsened in recent years and the federal budget cuts required under the “sequestration” process further cloud the issue.

The annual report, The State of Preschool Yearbook 2012, by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, says:

The research is clear that only high-quality pre-K has produced substantial gains in school readiness, achievement and educational attainment, higher productivity in the labor force, and decreases in social problems like crime and delinquency. The promised high economic returns associated with these positive outcomes have only been found for programs that were adequately funded and met or exceeded the benchmarks for quality…

The report notes that “state-funded pre-K has been one of education’s biggest success stories” in recent years, with enrollment quickly increasing over the last decade and quality standards increasing in many states despite funding drops. But, it says:

* Total state funding for pre-K programs decreased by more than $548 million across the 40 states that offer pre-K.

• State pre-K funding per child decreased by $442 (inflation-adjusted) from the previous year to $3,841. This is the first time since NIEER began tracking state pre-K in 2002 that funding per child spending has fallen below $4,000.

• State funding per child for pre-K declined in 27 of 40 states with programs, when adjusted for inflation. In 13 states per-child spending fell by 10 percent or more from the previous year. Only 12 states increased funding per child in 2011-2012….

• Only 15 states plus D.C. could be verified as providing enough per-child funding to meet all 10 benchmarks for quality standards. As only about 20 percent of the children enrolled in state-funded pre-K attend those programs, the vast majority of children served are in programs where funding per child may be inadequate to provide a quality education./

• More than 1.3 million children attended state-funded pre-K, 1.1 million at age 4.

• Enrollment increased by fewer than 10,000 children, which was not enough to offset population growth and increase the percentage of children served. Four percent of 3-year-olds and 28 percent of 4-year-olds were served in state-funded pre-K, the same as in the previous year.

• Combining general and special education enrollments, 31 percent of 4-year-olds and 7 percent of 3-year-olds are served by public pre-K. When including Head Start programs as well, 41 percent of 4-year-olds and 14 percent of 3-year-olds are served in these publicly funded programs. These percentages are similar to last year, indicating that enrollment in publicly-funded programs more generally has stagnated.

• Seventeen states—fewer than half—plus D.C. increased enrollments, with increases ranging from 1 percent in Alabama, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Tennessee to 21 percent in Oregon. Sixteen states reduced enrollment, from 1 percent in Connecticut, Kansas and New York to 19 percent in North Carolina.

• Three programs improved against NIEER’s Quality Standards Benchmarks checklist, while seven fell back. This was a total of nine fewer benchmarks met, five of which were for site visits to monitor program quality.

• Four states plus one of Louisiana’s three programs met all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks for state pre-K quality standards, down from five states the previous year. Another 16 states met eight or more.

• More than a half-million children, or 42 percent of nationwide enrollment, were served in programs that met fewer than half of the quality standards benchmarks.

• For the first time the study lists additional rankings that compare Washington, D.C. to the states while recognizing its special status. When compared to the states, D.C. ranks first for percentage of children served at both age 3 and 4 and for funding per child. Although it is a city, in sheer numbers, D.C. serves more 4-year-olds in pre-K than 15 states with programs and more 3-year-olds than all but five states. It meets 7 quality standards benchmarks in programs operated through D.C. Public Schools and Community-Based Organizations and 2 quality standards benchmarks in Charter Schools.

With little optimism in these difficult budget times that it will be fully funded, Obama has proposed spending $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds as well as $750 million in competitive grants to states to strengthen early learning systems.

Here are the reports on Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland:

Washington D.C.:

The District of Columbia has provided funding for prekindergarten programs since the 1960s. The D.C. Public Pre-Kindergarten program as it now exists serves students in schools run through D.C. Public Schools, community-based organizations, and charter schools authorized by the D.C. Public Charter School Board. The Pre-Kindergarten Enhancement and Expansion Amendment Act, passed in 2008, aims to provide high-quality, universally available prekindergarten education services through a mixed delivery system across all education sectors. The distribution of program funds by the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is based on a per-pupil funding formula with additional funds for serving children who receive special education services or are English Language Learners. Charter schools receive a separate facilities allowance per child.

DCPS piloted blended classrooms that enroll pre-K students funded through various sources in the pre-K program during the 2010-2011 school year. Additional freedom was also granted to non-public providers to manage their own contracts for technical assistance and comprehensive health service consultations.

The Public Charter School Board provides oversight to participating pre-K programs in charter school settings, referred to here as the D.C. Public Charter School Pre-K. Charter schools participating in the public school program must meet the standards set by the Pre-Kindergarten Enhancement and Expansion Amendment Act, though they have autonomy as granted by the School Reform Act to design their educational program according to their charters. For the 2012-2013 year, DCPS is piloting a new accountability system called the Early Childhood Performance Management Framework (PMF). Outcomes on assessment data are collected through the schools’ accountability plan and Early Childhood PMF. Additionally, PCSB is piloting the usage of CLASS for pre-K site observations. Since the nature of charter schools allows for individual schools to set their own goals, charter schools in D.C. are profiled separately in this report from programs run by DCPS and CBOs to allow for more accurate reporting. To increase availability of services, D.C. has sought to align early learning programs that include district-funded preschool and pre-K, Head Start, and special education. Efforts have been made to unduplicate enrollment figures presented in this report.

The District of Columbia has the unique situation of being a city that is not within a state. To be inclusive, we indicate how the District compared to the states. For example, as indicated by the “1*” ranking here and elsewhere in the report, when D.C. is compared to the states, it has a higher percentage of children enrolled at ages 3 and 4 and a higher expenditure per child than any of the states.


Maryland began providing preschool for at-risk 4-year-olds in 1980 through the Extended Elementary Education Program (EEEP), a pilot preschool program in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. By 2002 the program was serving 25 percent of all 4-year-olds as EEEP eventually expanded throughout the state. As part of school finance reform  legislation in 2002, local boards of education were mandated to expand prekindergarten access in public schools to all economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds by the 2007-2008 school year. As a result, state funding to school districts had significantly increased annually until 2011-2012 when state funds were decreased by approximately 9 percent. Revised prekindergarten regulations were implemented to help districts meet the  kindergarten readiness needs of special education, English Language Learner (ELL), and low-income students who constituted the greatest percentage of the 28,612 students enrolled in the 2011-2012 school year.

Maryland’s 2002 school finance reform law also restructured the funding mechanism for its pre-K programs. School districts had received dedicated state funds for EEEP to supplement general education funds in local school systems until 2007-2008 when pre-K programs were funded with state aid and local education dollars under the terms of the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act.

Maryland includes costs for prekindergarten in the cost estimates of K–12 education state aid, which requires local school systems to provide access to pre-K for “four year-olds from disadvantaged families.” In 2007, the Maryland Task Force on Universal Preschool Education recommended expansion of preschool access to include all 4-year-olds and some 3-year-olds regardless of family income. The state is implementing some recommendations from this report by permitting enrollment for 3-year-old children who are economically disadvantaged, homeless or in foster care, or at risk of school failure. In 2011-2012, total enrollment expanded for the first time since 2007-2008 with a notable increase for 3-year-olds, though the number of 4-year-olds decreased. Budgetary constraints continue to limit planned expansion to a voluntary, universal program by 2014. Despite an increase in local spending, total spending for pre-K decreased by eight percent in 2011-2012 from the year before as state and federal shares were dramatically reduced. In 2011-2012, NIEER determined that Maryland’s previously established policy permitting an average class size of 20 students rather than its application to every classroom was insufficient to retain a quality standards benchmark, resulting in Maryland meeting eight benchmarks for the 2011-2012 school year.

In addition to EEEP, Maryland has 25 early learning centers of excellence, known as Judy Centers. The Judy Center Partnerships, located in Title 1 school districts, collaborate with selected elementary schools to provide comprehensive year-round services for children from birth to age 6. During 2011-2012, Judy Center Partnerships provided enhanced, continuous learning opportunities to nearly 12,335 young children and their families, including 3,044 children under 3 years of age.

Maryland also supports early childhood education by supplementing the federal Head Start Program with state funding. In the 2011-2012 school year, the state provided $1.8 million to support extended-day/week services for Head Start attendees.

Maryland was one of nine states funded in the initial round of federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge in 2012.



The Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) has served at-risk 4-year-olds who are not enrolled in existing preschool programs since 1995. Enrollment in the Virginia Preschool Initiative increased in the 2011-2012 school year by 5 percent over the previous year, serving 16,618 4-year-olds. More than 80 percent of districts offer VPI services with the majority of children participating in public school settings. Eligibility criteria for students are based on locally determined risk factors including, but not limited to, limited English proficiency, family unemployment, homelessness, poverty, parent incarceration, and parent with limited education; however, funding allocations to local school divisions are based on free lunch eligibility figures. VPI programs may operate on either a part- or school-day schedule throughout the school year.

Funding for VPI is distributed to public school districts and local departments of social services, though these agencies may subcontract with Head Start programs or private child care centers to offer preschool education services. Communities are required to contribute matching funds, as calculated by a local composite index of district resources. The required local match remained capped at one-half the per-pupil amount regardless of local composite index during the 2011-2012 school year with the state contributing at least half of the $6,000 per-pupil rate. Local matching funds accounted for over 35 percent of total costs statewide.

Programs operating on a part-day schedule received half of the full-day funding allocation. State funding for VPI in 2011-2012 school year was restored by nearly $2 million from the previous year when it was reduced by $2.6 million from 2009-2010 and compensated by increased local spending of $2.2 million. Re-benchmarking in 2011-2012 of the VPI formula for the 2012-14 biennium will generate additional funding and about 24,500 slots each year. Lottery revenues continue to account for all state funding for VPI in the 2011-2012 school year.

The Virginia Preschool Initiative was evaluated for both process quality and program impact/child outcomes in 2011 by the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Due to a budget shortfall, funding was eliminated in 2011-2012 that previously allowed state education staff and consultants to monitor VPI programs through biennial site visits and reviews of program facilities, on-site safety procedures, and program record checks. The discontinuance of site visits results in Virginia meeting six of NIEER’s quality standards benchmarks in 2011-2012, down from seven benchmarks in 2010-2011. Desk monitoring continues to allow the annual review of program-level outcomes based on review of local plans and results of child assessments.