Earlier this week, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University released its annual State Preschool Yearbook for the 2012-2013 school year, which offered both some good and bad news regarding preschool enrollment, funding, and quality.
For the first time since NIEER began reporting on preschool trends in 2001-2002, there was a decline in enrollment. Over 9,200 fewer three and four-year-olds were enrolled during 2012-2013 than during 2011-2012. The state-by-state analysis shows that 20 states increased enrollment during this time period while 11 states saw their enrollment decline, however, the states with declining enrollment tended to be much more populous states, such as California.
When adjusted for inflation, state funding for pre-K increased by $30.6 million in 2012-2013. Although this does not make up for the massive cuts that took place during the previous school year, this increase combined with declining enrollment resulted in a $36 increase in state spending per student. Per pupil spending varied greatly between the 40 states (plus D.C.) that offer state pre-K. Nebraska and South Carolina each spend less than $2,000 per child, while D.C. spends over $14,000 and New Jersey over $12,000 per child.
While progress has stalled or regressed in some areas, many states improved the quality of their pre-K programs based on the NIEER’s Quality Standards Benchmarks. These benchmarks measure quality based on factors such as class size, standards, teacher’s level of education and specialization in early childhood, and student-teacher ratio. For the first time, all state-funded pre-K programs (53 total) used comprehensive early learning standards. Four states, as well as, one of the three programs in Louisiana, met all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks. Meanwhile, 16 states met eight or more of the benchmarks.
Overall, preschool saw some successes and faced some struggles this year. The decline in enrollment, although modest, is somewhat surprising given the increased attention that policymakers have been paying to early education initiatives. It will be interesting to see what enrollment numbers look like in the coming years. However, this modest enrollment decrease also represents a pause in the trend toward spreading little funding over more and more students each year, which expanded access but jeopardized quality in recent years. Quality is an area where things are looking up. Although there is still a lot of work to be done in meeting all of NIEER’s benchmarks, the progress that has been made over the last decade is promising and most programs are continuously working to improve the quality of pre-K education they offer.
For more information about the impact high quality prekindergarten can have on students check out CPE’s Pre-K research here.