Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Preschool funding increased in many states in the 2012-2013 school year (fiscal year 2013) according to recent findings from the Education Commission of the States.

The commission points to tough economic circumstances. There were K-12 funding cuts in 26 states; and state budgets grew on average only 2.2 percent, roughly half the rate of typical growth.

Despite this, funding for pre-k grew. There was a 3.6 percent increase in national pre-k funding of programs for four year-olds, raising the total to $5.3 billion in the 2012-2013 school year. More than half of this $181 million increase — $104 million – comes from California.

“Of the 40 states that provide funding for pre-k, 23 states plus the District of Columbia increased their funding levels and eight kept levels the same, while eight states made cuts.”

This upturn is good news, especially since the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found “an unprecedented funding drop of $500 million nationwide” for the prior 2011-2012 school year.

The commission says that funding for pre-k increased in these states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. For Massachusetts, the increase is due to an increase only in Head Start funding. (Other Massachusetts’ programs that the report highlights were level funded, including Universal Pre-K, Early Childhood Educator Scholarships,and Early Childhood Mental Health.)

The commission spotlights Rhode Island because it “joins 14 other states and the District of Columbia in using the state’s primary K-12 school funding formula to fund its pre-K program.” The program enrolled 140 students and was funded at roughly $10,000 per student in FY13.

Pre-k funding decreased in Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

Pre-k was level-funded in Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington.

Of the 11 states that do not fund pre-k, the commission says, some “are however, looking at creating state-funded pre-K opportunities.” Hawaii, for example, passed legislation last year “to create a new office of early learning, which will help in the development of a plan for an early childhood education program that offers universal access for the state’s four-year-olds.”

The commission also points to Montana where Governor Steve Bullock highlighted pre-k in his State of the State address, saying:

“If we are serious about training tomorrow’s workers, our commitment must begin not when our kids first enter college or the workforce, but rather when they first enter the world. We can’t wait until kindergarten before we take an interest. The evidence is compelling: every dollar we invest in early childhood education returns up to $9 to our communities. Early learning programs work. Children involved in early education do better in math and English, are much more likely to graduate from high school, and are a third less likely to be arrested as a juvenile. Unfortunately, Montana is dead last in the nation – 50th out of 50 – in state investment in early childhood education. That’s unacceptable.”

In conclusion, the commission points to President Obama’s preschool proposal and argues that, “This proposed federal commitment to pre-K, combined with improvement in state budgets, could result in an expansion in both the number of states that provide funding to pre-K programs, and to the total number of families that could take advantage of these programs in states where funding already exists.”

This welcome increase in pre-k funding has bipartisan support and the potential to improve children’s lives. But funding levels are still insufficient for reaching all children who need and want access to pre-k. We hope Congress will join in and act on the president’s proposal.

Michael Griffith, the commission’s senior policy analyst, will discuss preschool funding this week at the commission’s National Forum on Education Policy.