Image: Courtesy of NIEER
Image: the National Institute for Early Education Research

Yesterday, NIEER released its 2014 Yearbook, the organization’s annual look at the state of preschool programs nationwide and in each state.

The yearbook’s headline news: Pre-K programs continue to recover from the funding cuts of the 2008 recession, but inequities continue.

“It is heartening to see state-funded pre-K, once the fastest growing area in the entire education sector, back on the road to recovery, but there is still a lot of work to be done to recover from the deep cuts to early education during the recession,” Steve Barnett, NIEER’s director, said in a press release.

This good news/bad news scenario is born out by the Yearbook’s statistics for the 2013-2014 school year:

• states increased funding by nearly $120 million over the previous year, however,

• 40 percent of preschoolers — more than half a million — attend inadequate programs


• funding and enrollment are up over all, however,

• “only 29 percent of 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in pre-K nationally” 

In addition: nine states have no state-funded preschool program and “about a third of children served by state pre-K” live in “the two states with the lowest standards — Florida and Texas.”

“Particularly worrying is the number of states with inadequate requirements for preschool teacher preparation,” the Yearbook says. “A new Institute of Medicine and National Research Council report calls for all teachers of young children to have a four-year college degree and specialized training. States should create a timeline to ensure that all teachers in state-funded preschool programs obtain these qualifications and that their compensation is comparable to that for K-12 teachers with similar qualifications.”

These differences among states is “not clearly partisan,” according to a Washington Post article, “even though expanding public preschool has been a key goal for the Obama administration. Red states like Oklahoma and Texas are among those with the highest percentage of children in public preschool, with more than 40 percent of four-year-olds enrolled, according to the report.

“Some blue states — such as Hawaii and Washington — either have no public preschool program or enroll relatively few students.”

Massachusetts Treads Water 

“Massachusetts maintained its ranking of 28th among states with pre-K programs for access for 4-year-olds. Enrollment did not grow appreciably, making the state’s goal of universal access a distant one,” according to NIEER’s press release about Massachusetts.

“The state continues to meet just 6 of 10 quality standards benchmarks. Funding per child has been difficult to predict, as the state fell from 20th to 25th in 2014, down to $3,693 per child. That, in turn, is down from 8th a decade ago. The state is one of 27 states serving 3-year-olds, though it reaches just 4 percent of these students, ranking 18th.”

The full Massachusetts profile is posted here.

The Goal

“Every state is capable of delivering high quality pre-K to all 4-year-olds within 10 years, if they set high standards and commit adequate resources. Many states could reach this goal in less than 10 years,” according to NIEER’s Preschool Matters blog.

“If pre-K is to be made available to even all children under 200 percent of the poverty level within the next 20 years, state investments will have to grow at a much faster pace. At the 2013-2014 growth rate it would take about 75 years for states to reach 50 percent enrollment at age 4 and 150 years to reach 70 percent enrollment. Even a return to the average rate of growth since 2001-2002 would leave the nation 25 years away from enrolling 50 percent of 4-year-olds in state funded pre-K,” the Yeabook says.

“States should set goals to increase enrollment much more rapidly than has been the case in the past, while raising quality standards and providing funding at the level needed to support those high standards.”

“Many states need to raise their quality standards for pre-K and implement policies to ensure continuous improvement. Without sufficient quality, programs will not fulfill their promise with respect to children’s learning and development or long-term economic returns.”

“The federal government should offer financial incentives for states to set and achieve ambitious goals for enrollment, quality standards, and adequate funding.”

And: “When states do not adequately support high-quality pre-K, communities should act on their own as cities across the nation from New York to Seattle have already done.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan helped release the report, noting, “The current pace of change is far too incremental,” according to this Washington Post article. “We have to think about transformational change.”