10/01/2008 - Children of all socioeconomic backgrounds reap educational rewards from an early education, but most three- and four-year-olds in the United States go without preschool.
This was a finding of The State of Preschool 2007, a study carried out by the Pew-supported National Institute for Early Education Research, which ranked all 50 states according to percentage of children served, spending per child and number of quality benchmarks met for the 2006-2007 school year. The study concluded that while overall preschool enrollment, standards and state spending were up from the previous school year, states still have a long way to go toward offering top-notch universal pre-K.
“The nation made progress this year, but when you dig deep into the data, the picture is not so rosy,” says W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D., director of the institute, based at Rutgers University, where he is Board of Governors Professor.
State-funded preschools served more than 1 million children in 2006- 2007, but even when including federal and private school programs, onequarter of all four-year-olds and half of all three-year-olds still had no access to a preschool education. And 12 states offered no state-funded preschool at all.
Of the 38 that did, the average spent was $3,642 per child, up from previous years but significantly lower than spending for K-12 programs. There was also considerable variance, with New Jersey the top-ranked state at $10,494 per child and South Carolina last at $1,600 per child.
States also showed a mixed record in reaching the institute’s quality benchmarks, such as limiting class size and student-teacher ratios, and requiring teachers to hold bachelor’s degrees. North Carolina and Alabama met all 10 benchmarks, as they have in previous years, and eight additional states met nine of 10. Kansas met the fewest—three—and six other states met only four.
Pre-K of high quality benefits both children and the states. According to Sara Watson, senior officer at Pew, “Pre-k can save money both immediately, in terms of special education placement and grade retention, and over the long term, since many of the traits and skills that make adults good employees, good neighbors and good citizens start in the earliest years.”