The recession hit early education hard last year, according to a survey of state spending released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research. For the first time since NIEER started keeping track in 2002, total spending by states on early childhood education declined.
There were a few bright spots – Alaska and Rhode Island began offering public preschool – but “the bad news tends to more than offset the good news,” said Steven Barnett, co-director of NIEER.
Barnett predicted that the situation will get worse. The impact of large state cuts was softened by increased federal spending on early education via the economic stimulus. Now, that stimulus money is gone.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he’s worried about the cuts. “The general trends are frankly not encouraging,” he said yesterday in a conference call with Barnett and reporters. “We have to get out of the catch-up game in education,” he added.
Barnett was especially frustrated about developments in Ohio, where the state government made large cuts to early childhood education, including cutting its full-day prekindergarten program entirely. “Just when parents have the least ability to provide” for their children, Barnett said, “the state pulls the rug out.”
Here’s what NIEER says are the key findings of its annual report:
- Five states (Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio) now enroll fewer children in state preschool programs than they did 10 years ago.
- Enrollment nationally increased by 26,996 children. Nearly 1.3 million children attended state-funded preschools, more than 1 million at age 4 alone.
- Fourteen states increased the percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-K programs by at least one percentage point, while seven states saw decreases of at least one percentage point in the 2009-10 school year.
- Enrollment of 3-year-olds decreased across the country, with nine states cutting enrollment by 10 percent or more. Those states are Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.
- The 2009-10 school year was the first tracked by NIEER in which total state funding for pre-K fell from the prior year.
- State pre-K spending per child decreased by $114 to $4,028 (adjusted for inflation), even with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This year, NIEER has added a second estimate of per-child spending, $4,212, which reflects a redefinition of California’s preschool program.
- State spending per child was almost $700 below its 2001-2002 level.
- After adjusting for inflation, state funding per child declined in 19 of the 40 states with programs. While only three states (Connecticut, Maine and Vermont) increased per-child spending by more than 10 percent, nine states (Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Ohio and South Carolina) cut per-child spending by more than 10 percent.
- Twenty-three of the 40 states with programs failed to fully meet NIEER benchmarks for teacher qualifications, and 26 failed to meet the benchmark for assistant teacher qualifications.
- Five state programs met all 10 quality standards. They were Alabama, Alaska, one of the three Louisiana programs, North Carolina and Rhode Island.
- Four states (Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia) improved on NIEER’s Quality Standards Checklist, but two states (Ohio and Nebraska) lost ground.