- National enrollment continued to climb slowly in state-funded preschool programs in the 2015-16 school year, according to a new report by the National Institute for Early Education Research, with nearly 1.5 million children attending in total.
- The report found that nearly 5% of 3-year-olds and 32% of 4-year-olds were in state-funded preschool, and about half of the enrollment increase was due to competitive federal Preschool Development Grants. Five states and one program in Louisiana hit all 10 benchmarks for minimum state preschool quality standards, the report found.
- The total state funding for preschool programs stood at about $7.4 billion, an 8% increase in real dollars from the prior year, and California and Texas contributed to much of that increase pre-K funds rising by $200 million and $100 million, respectively.
It is important for educators and administrators to consider that although funding and enrollment in state-funded preschool programs has increased, it does not mean that those increases were uniform throughout the state. In rural areas, many often report that the concern is not necessarily one of program cost but of availability. As early childhood education continues to expand and as supporters continue to tout its benefits for children and the economy, research should also examine if the gap between rural and urban access to early childhood education is expanding because of a lack of program access in sparsely populated areas.
Supporters consider early educational access to be key to solving many of the gaps in equity and achievement that occur later in academic careers. The spikes in funding are a sign that legislators are increasingly starting to concur, especially when one considers that pre-K has gone relatively shortchanged. Katharine Stevens, the American Enterprise Institute’s resident scholar on education policy studies, said that approximately 98% of state education funding goes to K-12.
However, with the release of President Donald Trump’s new budget, some supporters of early childhood education are concerned that students will suffer due to projected funding cuts. Taryn Morrissey, child care policy expert and co-author of "Cradle to Kindergarten," said the projected cuts to Medicaid and SNAP could burden students who may benefit from affordable and accessible pre-K and child care options.
“While the budget includes a plan for paid parental leave, available to both parents, the time allotted — 6 weeks — is too short, and the support it would provide to young families pales in comparison to what they will lose with the cuts in the rest of the budget,” Morrissey said. Educators must keep in mind that, even with increases in early childhood education funding, such gains could be offset by other detrimental cuts to vulnerable populations.