For publicly funded preschool, last year was a good year. In some schools.
The National Institute for Early Education Research has just released its annual The State of Preschool report. Spending per child is up, enrollment is up slightly and more states met the benchmarks for quality standards.
But that good report card depends on where you live.
“Access to high-quality pre-K remains low and highly unequal,” said Steve Barnett, director of the the National Institute for Early Education Research.
Some states like New York are making major gains. "In two years, New York has achieved, in the expansion of high-quality, full-day pre-K, what the country as a whole might take 150 years to achieve," Barnett said. "And that really is a New York minute."
Oklahoma has provided universal pre-K for many years. And Washington, D.C. has moved to the head of the pack for raising its standards of quality.
But three of the country’s largest states — California, Florida and Texas — have among the country’s weakest quality standards, the report says. And both Florida and Texas cut funding for public preschool last year and the year before.
There are consequences for inadequate funding. “Kids who start a year, a year and a half behind, don’t catch up by third grade,” Barnett said.
Lynn Karoly, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, agrees that preschools help prepare students for schools. "But we also see longer-term benefits in terms of their performance in school," she said. High-quality preschool lead to higher rates of high school graduation and fewer skipped grades, Karoly said.
Lack of funding for preschool ultimately can undermine the strength of the nation’s economy, Barnett said.
"If we want to have a highly qualified work force that can compete, we need to be educating kids earlier and at least having them start kindergarten on a level playing field," Barnett added.