States Cut Back Dramatically On Preschool Spending

The benefits of preschool for children, their families, and the economy have been well documented, but states are decreasing, not expanding, funding for those programs. A new report finds that states are spending the lowest amount per child in Pre-K in a decade and that funding for preschool programs saw the largest drop ever last year:

Per-student funding for existing programs during that year dropped to an average of $3,841 for each student. It was the first time average spending per student dropped below $4,000 in today’s dollars since researchers started tracking it during the 2001-02 academic year.

Adjusted for inflation, per-student funding has been cut by more than $1,000 during the last decade. […]

The report notes that this has also led to lower outcomes in these programs:

In all, only 15 states and the District of Columbia spent enough money to provide quality programs, the researchers concluded. Those programs serve about 20 percent of the 1.3 million enrolled in state-funded prekindergarten programs. […]

Nationally, 42 percent of students — or more than a half million students — were in programs that met fewer than half of the benchmarks researchers identified as important to gauging a program’s effectiveness, such as classrooms with fewer than 20 students and teachers with bachelor’s degrees.

These numbers come on top of cutbacks in other early childhood programs. Sequestration has forced Head Start programs to drop children. States have widely pulled back on funding for childcare assistance, leaving families worse off than they were a decade ago. This leaves the parents of young children few options for quality care during critical years.

In fact, the United States ranks at the very bottom when it comes to spending on early childhood education among developed countries. This helps fuel a growing trend of disparity in educational outcome by income. As Sean F. Reardon, a professor of education and sociology at Stanford, has found, the gap in test scores between the rich and the poor is about 40 percent larger than 30 years ago. This means that the gap in SAT scores between a child whose family makes $15,000 a year and one whose family makes $165,000 is 125 points, up from 90 points in the 1980s and double the gap between white and black children.

President Obama has proposed a plan to make preschool universally accessible and included $75 billion in his budget proposal to get it off the ground. This would help plug the gaps in quality and access between states and thus improve educational outcomes for those children while creating positive effects for the economy in the long term.