Excellence at an Early Age: Maryland ranks in the top 10 for quality pre-K, but too many kids are left out
baltimore sun editorial
May 7, 2010 -- Here's another accolade to add to Maryland's No. 1 ranking among the nation's public schools: This week, a respected national survey of publicly funded preschool programs named Maryland one of the top 10 states for quality early child care and pre-kindergarten programs.
The report, by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, was based on data from all 50 states as well as information provided by Head Start, the U.S. Census and other sources. Although researchers found that efforts to improve early childhood education nationally had slowed as a result of the recession, state funding and public support for pre-K remained strong in Maryland, and the percentage of children who enter kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed in school continues to increase.
- CA was rated 26th in access for 4-YEAR-OLDS,
- 9th in access by 3-YEAR-OLDS,
- 22nd in STATE SPENDING and
- 26th in ALL REPORTED SPENDING
One heartening bit of news is that much of the gain in school readiness occurred among low-income and minority students from families earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level. These are the children who are most at risk of school failure, and studies have shown that quality early care and pre-K attendance can drastically increase their chances of success.
Yet currently, fewer than half of the state's 61,000 4-year-olds who will go on to enter public school kindergartens are eligible for free public pre-K, and about a third of those who are enrolled could lose their eligibility if local school systems run out of money, forcing them to cut class sizes or reduce the number of locations where programs are offered.
Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill directing the state education department to plan a gradual expansion of pre-K eligibility that would eventually include every child in the state. The first stage would have seen the eligibility limit on family income rise from 185 percent to 300 percent of the federal poverty line, increasing the programs' current $101 million cost by $19 million. But momentum for the effort stalled this year in the face of pressure to close a $2 billion state budget gap. Still, lawmakers did acknowledge the issue's importance by directing state education officials to apply for a grant from the Obama administration's $10 billion Early Learning Challenge Fund.
Officials cannot, however, afford to lose sight of the importance of Maryland's hard-won gains in early education, or the urgent public interest in expanding access to quality pre-K. It's a fact that low-income, minority and non-native-English-speaking students who attend pre-K are significantly more ready for school than their counterparts who do not, and pre-K attendance also significantly reduces the readiness gap between these students and their more affluent peers.
Moreover, the state's relatively modest investment in expanded pre-K is a drop in the bucket compared with the enormous social costs of school failure. Kids who arrive at school unprepared have trouble throughout their academic careers, and the state pays dearly for those who drop out — in the form of higher incarceration and Medicaid costs, and in lost tax revenues.
Surely that money would be better spent on quality early education. That's why lawmakers should make universal access to pre-K programs a priority and encourage every child to strive for excellence early and often.
Preschool Progress Hurt by Recession, Rutgers Study Shows
by Danny Yadron | Politics Daily
05/5/10 - The recession has slowed years of progress in America's preschools, and advancements are likely to stall entirely or decline as states come to terms with gutted tax rolls, according to a study released this week.
Although most states still boosted public pre-K enrollment during the 2008-09 school year, the period of the survey, growth slowed in quality, access and public funding, according to The State of Preschool 2009, an annual report by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
On their face, the statistics don't look that bad. Of the 38 states offering pre-K programs, 29 actually served more children, the researchers found. Eight states raised standards, while three lost ground, and funding per child averaged $4,143 when adjusted for inflation, a slight decrease from $4,179 the previous year.
But compared to previous years, progress in pre-K education in 2008-09 was sluggish at best, early education experts say.
And it was before the state budget debacle known as Fiscal Year 2010, they said. State lawmakers started the year having to make up more than $145 billion in budget deficits last year, only to see revenue holes explode months later, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"Children are caught in a squeeze play," said W. Steven Barnett, co-director for the Rutgers-based think tank. "States will have to set priorities and make tough decisions."
Early childhood education, usually associated with 3- and 4-year-olds, has never grabbed the same attention as No Child Left Behind or mass school closures. Advocates measure funding in millions – not billions – of dollars, and some parts of the country view it as a form of day care rather than schooling. But many in education reform, including its chief Democratic supporter in the Senate, said it's the secret to boosting student achievement.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, has made it a pet project as he tries to rewrite the nation's main education law. The statute, titled the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, makes no mention of preschool. "We're always playing catch-up ball," Harkin said at a Senate panel last month on education funding. "And one of the reasons we play so much catch-up is that we don't put a lot of emphasis on the time when kids' brains are developing the most, and that's from birth to 5."
There's little sign of improvement. State lawmakers across the country have turned to early education as a way to trim underfunded budgets. New Mexico already cut 13 percent of prekindergarten appropriations for next year and Arizona is considering zeroing out early education dollars.
In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed a cut of more than $54 million in early education funds from the state's 2010 budget. Officials already slashed the program by 10 percent to $342 million for the current fiscal year. The Illinois State Board of Education estimates there will be 30,000 fewer kids in state preschools next fall than in 2009 if Quinn's proposal clears the state legislature. "It was extraordinarily difficult," said agency spokeswoman Mary Fergus. "It was a very tough budget year last year, and it was a very tough budget year this year."
The study also found that funding, and expectations, varied widely from state to state. Texas topped the list with $760 million in state dollars for pre-K and Nevada placed last at $3.3 million. The numbers do not inlcude federal programs for low-income children.
For things to change, Barnett said, there needs to be more stewardship from the federal government. Department of Education stimulus dollars have served as a sort of life raft for many districts during the economic downturn. Race to the Top, a national competition to overhaul U.S. school systems, will dole out $4 billion by September. There should be an equivalent for U.S. preschools, he said. Lawmakers proposed a $1-billion Early Learning Challenge Fund last year, but the measure was stripped in March from a student loan bill.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said last month that the money was not included in his department's budget proposal because he was expecting Congress to move on the issue.
Meanwhile, supporters point to numerous studies that linked preschool attendance to later academic performance. "Here's one of the few programs that really help middle-class families," Barnett said. "(And) it's a rounding error in the federal budget."
Hard Times Derail Growth of State-Funded Preschool
By Liz Willen | The Hechinger Report – from EdWeek Vol. 29, Issue 31
May 4, 2010 -- Early-education programs are struggling to serve all the children who qualify for them, as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression has caused states to slash budgets and reduce spending, according to an annual survey of state-funded programs by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
Expansion of state-funded preschool was slower in 2009 and more uneven than in previous years, even though total enrollment and spending increased overall, the institute found. With more parents relying on publicly funded preschool as their incomes fell, enrollment declined in nine states, while other states limited enrollment. Twelve states, including Idaho and New Hampshire, provide no state-funded preschool.
“Last year, we saw continued rapid progress but threats of cuts,” said W. Steven Barnett, a co-director of the institute, based in New Brunswick, N.J. “This year [2008-09] we saw the pace of growth in enrollment slow and real spending per child decrease after two years of increases.”
The NIEER survey ranks all states for the 2008-09 school year on enrollment in state-funded preschool programs, along with the amount states spend per child and how they meet the institute’s quality benchmarks. Oklahoma is on top, based on enrollment, quality standards, funding, and the effectiveness of its program, followed by Arkansas, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Louisiana, and Tennessee.
Pre-K Budgets Squeezed
Average State Spending Per Child Enrolled
State Pre-K and Head Start Enrollment as a Percentage of Total Population
SOURCE: National Institute for Early Education Research
The institute uncovered instances of large budget cuts and even the elimination of several programs, underscoring the difficulty of keeping early-childhood education at the top of policymakers’ agendas in tough economic times. More than 1.2 million children attend state-funded prekindergarten.
“As family incomes fall, more children become eligible for and in need of state preschool programs,” Mr. Barnett said. “Yet, in the face of rising demand, state pre-K budgets are being squeezed, making it nearly impossible for them to meet the need.”
The findings follow two years in which states saw large boosts in enrollment and more than doubled their spending on preschool, to $4.6 billion, in 2008. The increases largely stalled during the recession; state funding rose only to $5 billion in 2009.
The average amount states spent, when adjusted for inflation, declined $36 per child between 2008 and 2009, to $4,143. Spending per child declined in 24 of the 38 states with programs, the survey found.
“Given all we know about the importance of early childhood, it’s disheartening to see any cuts whatsoever,” said Sharon Lynn Kagan, a co-director of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University.
While it’s no surprise that the global economic crisis has derailed U.S. gains in preschool expansion, the trends are made more worrisome because states are continuing to scale back long-planned prekindergarten expansions or debating further cuts, said Mr. Barnett.
In addition, one out of seven children has an unemployed parent, meaning more families now qualify for programs whose eligibility is determined by income, he said.
“Even a state that is flat [in its spending] or has a small increase may not be keeping pace,” Mr. Barnett said.
The findings come as hope for a new federal investment in early-childhood education suffered a setback. Money for President Barack Obama’s proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund did not come through in the remaking of the health-care system and an overhaul of the federal student-loan program in March. The fund would have provided competitive grants to help states both create and improve the quality of services for children from birth to age 5 who are deemed at risk.
Looking to ESEA
Marci Young, a project director with the Washington-based Pew Center on the States, said she hopes that Congress will add money and incentives to build on state investments in prekindergarten as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “As findings in the NIEER Yearbook underscore, state-funded prekindergarten programs are facing increased challenges,” Ms. Young said.
The survey also found:
• Twenty-three of 38 states with state-funded preschool failed to meet NIEER benchmarks for teacher qualifications, and 26 failed to meet the benchmark for assistant teacher qualifications.
• Six states have programs that meet fewer than half the benchmarks for quality standards. States failing to meet most benchmarks include California, Florida, and Texas, three of the four states with the largest numbers of children enrolled.
• Oklahoma is the only state that offers a high-quality preschool education to every child by age 4.
• Illinois, Vermont, and New Jersey lead the nation in serving children at age 3.
Barbara Bowman, who has served as a consultant to U.S. Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan, said the NIEER report underscored the difficulty of getting more resources behind early-childhood education on a state level. “We can’t improve schools and outcomes for children without high-quality early-childhood education,” Ms. Bowman said. “But so many states are in hazardous financial shape they can’t do anything for early childhood right now.”
Ms. Bowman said she is convinced that neither President Obama nor Mr. Duncan have given up hope that challenge grants will be funded, and that they remain committed to a vision of more expansive funding for early-childhood initiatives. “It’s worrisome that it has taken so long,’’ she said. “No one expected this financial mess we are in. We were hoping we could do both health care and early childhood, but we understand the political realities. There will be some hard times before this is straightened out, but if we don’t take care of the early-childhood component, children will start out at a disadvantage.”
- This article was produced by The Hechinger Report. The nonprofit, nonpartisan education news outlet is affiliated with the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, based at Teachers College, Columbia University.
The State of Preschool 2009
by W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D., Dale J. Epstein, Ph.D., Allison H. Friedman, Ed.M., Rachel Sansanelli, M.A., Jason T. Hustedt, Ph.D., National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University
The 2009 State Preschool Yearbook is the seventh in a series of annual reports profiling state-funded prekindergarten programs in the United States. This latest Yearbook presents data on state-funded prekindergarten during the 2008-2009 school year. The first report in this series focused on programs for the 2001-2002 school year and established a baseline against which we may now measure progress over eight years. Tracking these trends is essential, since changes in states' policies on preschool education will influence how successfully America's next generation will compete in the knowledge economy.
The 2009 Yearbook is organized into three major sections. The first section offers a summary of the data, and describes national trends for enrollment in, quality of, and spending on preschool. The second section presents detailed profiles outlining each state's policies with respect to preschool access, quality standards, and resources for the 2008-2009 program year. In addition to providing basic program descriptions, these state profiles describe unique features of a state's program and recent changes that can be expected to alter the future Yearbook statistics on a program. Profile pages are again included for states without state-funded programs. A description of our methodology follows the state profiles. The last section of the report contains appendices, which are available online only. The appendices include tables that provide the complete 2008-2009 survey data obtained from every state, as well as Head Start, child care, U.S. Census, and special education data. For the first time, in addition to being able to access the entire set of appendices, an interactive dataset is available which allows users to select specific variables within Appendix A and create their own data tables.
State-funded preschool programs represent an important and sizeable component of the nation's patchwork of early childhood education programs. The National Institute for Early Education Research has developed the State Preschool Yearbook series to provide information on services offered through these programs to children at ages 3 and 4. We hope that this report will serve as a resource for policymakers, advocates, and researchers to make more informed decisions as state-funded preschool education moves forward.
While parents strive to guide children's growth and development in the home, state and local governments bear primary responsibility for classroom-based education in the United States. Programs that serve young children operate under a variety of names and auspices, including the federal Head Start program as well as privately and publicly funded child care. State prekindergarten programs will play an increasingly important role as part of this larger array of programs. The Yearbook seeks to improve the public's knowledge and understanding of state efforts to expand the availability of high-quality education to young children in the 21st century.
Limited time offer: Receive a free printed copy of the Yearbook
To receive a free printed copy of the 2009 State Preschool Yearbook, please e-mail your name and mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Complimentary copies of some previous editions are also available.
View the complete report (8MB PDF)