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Report Shows a Continued Rise in Children Enrolled in State-Funded Preschool

More children are enrolled in a state-funded preschool than ever before, according to an annual report of the nation’s preschools conducted by The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

The report, which measures every aspect of state-funded preschool enrollment and spending, found that 32 percent of the nation’s four-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool. This marks a continuous rise since the institute began tracking enrollment in 2002. Five percent of the nation’s three-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded early education programs last year.

The data shows that nationally, preschools have come a long way in the last decade and half, both in enrollment and spending per child. In 2002, only 14 percent of four-year-olds and three percent of three-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded early education program. While the progress does vary significantly from state to state, the 2015-2016 school year saw six states and the District of Columbia serving at least 61 percent of four-year olds.

Last year also saw the inclusion of Guam as the first U.S. Territory to provide a preschool program that met the criteria for inclusion in the annual study.

On the flip side, a number of states remained relatively stagnant in their growth or slipped backwards. Fourteen states served less than 10 percent of their population’s children in state-funded preschool programs, with seven states (Idaho, New Hampshire, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming) offering no program at all.

Exceptional progress was also shown in the amount of spending that states put toward their programs during the 2015-2016 school year with a total of almost $7.4 billion. That’s an increase of almost $564 million across the 43 participating states and D.C. Most of the increase came from California and Texas -- an increase of $200 million and $100 million -- but an additional nine states increased their spending on preschools by $10 million. Broken down, that’s an increase of $253 spent per child in state-funded preschools.

State preschool policies were rated last year against a long-held list of benchmarks, though NIEER has outlined new, more rigorous quality benchmarks for the first time since its publication began.  Six states met all 10 of the current quality benchmarks, while nine states, including the District of Columbia which had the highest enrollment, only managed to meet three of the quality benchmark standards.

NIEER’s revised set of quality benchmarks aim to align with policies that “affect classroom experiences and support children’s learning and development” such as teaching through multiple pathways.

The full report and breakdown of each state can be found here.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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