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National Report Examines State Preschool Policies in 2019-2020, Including Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

Resource April 21, 2021

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released the 2020 State of Preschool report, an annual survey of state preschool policies, which includes recent data on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted access, quality, and funding for preschool education programs across the country. It includes information from every state on child enrollment, funding, staffing, and quality standards, as well as information about where children are served, preschool program operating schedules, and other program features.

While the report focuses on the 2019-2020 school year, which was interrupted by the pandemic last spring, NIEER included a special report to add more data on the pandemic’s effect on state-funded preschool.

The report notes that, even before the pandemic, enrollment and growth in state-funded preschool had slowed down, with only 12,000 preschool slots being added across the country and the number of 4-year-olds in preschool declining during the 2019-2020 school year. According to the report, one-third of America’s 4-year-olds and 6.3% of America’s 3-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschools. Across all public programs — including special education and federal- and state-funded Head Start — only 44% of 4-year-olds and 17% of 3-year-olds were served, fewer than the number served in the previous school year.

During the 2019-2020 school year, total state funding for preschool programs surpassed $9 billion for the first time across the 44 states and Washington, D.C. that offered preschool, which represents a 3% increase from the previous year. When the pandemic is factored in, estimates indicate preschool enrollment and spending have fallen as parents chose not to enroll children in programs. In many states, funding for preschool programs is tied to the previous year’s enrollment, so the decline in the number of children enrolled during the pandemic could result in decreased funding even as enrollment rebounds post-pandemic.

The full report, the special report on the impact of COVID-19, background resources, and individual state profiles are all available here.

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