Thirteen states controlled by a Republican governor and legislature increased spending on preschool last year, according to new numbers from the Education Commission on the States. Two others with Republican governors but split legislatures did the same.
Some of the increases were also significant. South Carolina boosted spending by nearly 80 percent, or from about $34 million to nearly $62 million. Michigan increased spending by about 60 percent, Nebraska (which has a Republican governor and a nonpartisan legislature) by nearly 58 percent, Alabama by almost 50 percent, and Ohio by more than 40 percent. Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin also beefed up their spending.
Overall, 40 states fund Pre-K programs, and of those 30 increased funding last year, with ten jumping by more than 20 percent. In total, spending on Pre-K programs increased by about 7 percent, reaching a total of $5.6 billion. Just three states cut back on spending.
Preschool has gotten a national spotlight after President Obama announced a plan to create a universal program for the country in his State of the Union last year and followed it up with $75 billion in funding in his budget. The bipartisan appeal at the state level was also evident in a subsequent bill put forward in Congress with support from both Democrats and Republicans.
And beyond increasing spending on existing programs, many of which don’t reach all children, some states are going further and working on their own universal programs. Efforts are underway in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, and legislation has been introduced in California, Indiana, and South Carolina.
But the United States has a lot of work to do if it wants to catch up to its peers when it comes to preschool. It ranks at number 21 for the percentage of GDP it spends on preschool. And it falls at number 26 for how many four-year-old are enrolled in programs and 24 for three-year-olds. Publicly funded programs reach a small sliver of the population: just 28 percent of four-year-olds and a mere 4 percent of three-year-olds are served by them.