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NIEER’s Annual Report Scores States on Early Childhood Education Programs

Resource April 18, 2019

This week, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released its annual Preschool Yearbook, which tracks enrollment, funding, and for the last three years, quality of state funded pre-K programs. This report does not account for the use of federal Head Start funds.

This year, the report a found small enrollment increase of about 35,000  4 year-olds nationwide. For the 2017-2018 academic year, about one-third of the nation’s 4 year-olds and just over 5 percent of 3 year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs.

NIEER’s report found wide variances in access to enrollment. While most states that provide state-funded pre-K serve a small percent of 4 year-olds, ten states served more than 50 percent of 4 year-olds, and four states, the District of Columbia, Florida, Oklahoma, and Vermont, served more than 70 percent of 4 year-olds. However, the quality of these programs varies from state to state, according to NIEER’s findings.

New this year, two states, Montana and North Dakota, began small pilot programs for state funded pre-K. Six states still have no state pre-K program meeting NIEER’s definition of state-funded pre-K. . Five states, Idaho, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming offer no state funded pre-K programs. Notably, the sixth state, Indiana no longer meets the definition of a state-funded preschool program for the report because of new eligibility requirements for “On My Way Pre-K” that links to parents’ work status.

In addition to tracking enrollment, NIEER’s report highlights state spending on pre-K programs. The average contribution for 2017-2018 was $5,170 per child. The District of Columbia has the highest per-child expenditures at $17,545, while North Dakota spends the least at $777 per child.

The report also noted that the federally-funded Legacy Preschool Development Grants expire this year. Beginning in 2014, these funds were awarded to 18 states and supported, in part, an estimated 35,000 high-needs 4 year-olds. The report found that eight states had plans in place to support those slots when the funding expires and an additional nine states planned to work on finding sustaining funds. This is unrelated to the new Preschool Development Grants Birth through Five program, which was created as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act and is currently funding state-level needs assessments and strategic planning in 46 states to optimize ECE resources. The grants focus on three major activities: maximizing parental choice, improving transitions within early care and learning programs and with elementary schools; and improving overall quality of ECE programs. This funding offers a unique opportunity for states to consider the full range of programs, services, and funding streams that support children birth through age five and their families.

For the last three years, NIEER has also assessed the quality of state-funded pre-K programs. This year, three states Alabama, Michigan, and Rhode Island met all ten of NIEER’s quality benchmarks. Other states, including Tennessee, increased the number of quality standards they met.

A final finding of the report outlined the low-wages of most pre-K teachers. While 28 states require preschool teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, only four states require teachers to be paid on the same salary schedule as kindergarten to third-grade teachers. These disparities in pay can lead to more teacher turn over.

Research consistently shows that investing in early learning and care provides benefits to children, families, and society. Children who experience high-quality early learning have long-lasting gains as they are more likely to enter Kindergarten ready to learn, are less likely to be retained in a grade, and are more likely to graduate from high school. And Nobel Laureate James Heckman found that investments in high-quality early childhood education from birth through age five can generate up to $7,30 per dollar invested.

You learn more about NIEER and read their complete report, including state specific profiles, here.

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