Report: Tight State Budgets Reveal Governors' True Pre-K Colors

Report: Tight State Budgets Reveal Governors' True Pre-K Colors

In spite of significant fiscal and political challenges, 16 governors and the mayor of Washington, D.C. proposed a total of $261 million in increases for pre-kindergarten programs, according to Pre-K Now, a Washington, D.C.-based education advocacy group in their annual state-by-state analysis of leadership on early childhood education released today.

The report, "Leadership Matters: Governors' Pre-K Proposals Fiscal Year 2009," reveals that collectively, these budget proposals would bring total state funding for pre-k to $5.2 billion a 5.5% increase from last year - and would make pre-k available to nearly 60,000 more three and four year olds across the country. Among the governors recognized in the report for fighting to expand quality pre-k programs in the face of major hurdles are Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee (D) and Bob Riley of Alabama (R), both of whom joined Pre-K Now for today's release.

"I appreciate the honor and share it with early childhood education advocates in Tennessee and across the country," Gov. Bredesen said. "It's sometimes an uphill political battle fighting for pre-k. But it's important because we know that, dollar for dollar, pre-k is the single best investment we can make in our kids' future. I'm committed to making pre-k an option for all parents and families who want their children to attend, regardless of class or economic status."

"The benefits of a high-quality pre-k program are unmatched, both in the academic advantage it gives children and the economic effects it can have for our state," said Governor Riley. "Alabama's First Class Voluntary Pre-K is rated as the best pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality, but access is still far too limited. We must continue to expand it so that all Alabama families have the option of high-quality pre-k for their children."

For the first time in four years, the number of governors recommending increases in pre-k funding declined: with 22 states facing deficits, the economic downturn felt coast to coast threatens to halt years of positive momentum in the national movement to make quality pre-k available to every three and four year old. For FY09, eight governors proposed flat or decreased pre-k funding, amounting to a $36 million cut from pre-k programs.

"We can clearly see leaders' priorities when budgets are tight," said Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now. "The governors who stand out in this report are those who are consistently committed to doing what is best for young children, and savvy enough to know that investment in quality pre-k is a sound economic decision for their states."

Pre-K Now also reports a trend among policymakers to protect pre-k funding from cuts or elimination by linking it with the enrollment-based school funding formula. For FY09, seven states anticipate budget increases for pre-k through this sound funding mechanism, and one additional governor has chosen to move funding for his state's high-quality pre-k program in this direction.

"Leadership Matters FY09" also calls out governors who failed to prioritize pre-k contrary to their pro-pre-k rhetoric and in some cases, despite budget surpluses. While the mixed report confirms that too many leaders waver when it comes to early education, it distinguishes the state executives most committed to early education, willing to fight to protect pre-k from funding cuts in this challenging budget year.

Additional report findings include:

  • Commitment to pre-k is neither "red" nor "blue": both Republican and Democratic governors proposed pre-k funding increases.
  • Four governors proposed cuts to pre-k funding: CA, ID, RI, and SC.
  • Six states will see their pre-k funding increase for FY09 because of previously approved biennial budgets: CT, MN, NV, OR, WA, and WI.
  • Pre-k has been thriving in the American South, with one exception; Mississippi is the only southern state in the Pre-K Wilderness.
  • Two governors presiding over enviable budget surpluses failed to invest in pre-k: MT and WY.
  • In spite of positive pre-k rhetoric, two governors failed to invest in pre-k programs: MO and MS.

The steadfast commitment by many governors to invest in pre-k is partially due to the growing support of the business community, which considers early education an essential investment in workforce development. Noted economists concur, citing research that consistently demonstrates the strong returns communities and states will see on every dollar invested in quality pre-k programs.

Research also indicates that the majority of brain development occurs before age five. A high-quality pre-k program helps parents make the most of these critical early learning years by providing a rich academic and social setting in which children learn numbers, letters, and teamwork during a developmental phase that sets the stage for life.

"Children growing up in states where governors recognize the vital importance of quality pre-k programs will enter kindergarten more confident and more prepared to succeed," said Doggett. "Even in tough financial times, state leaders should prioritize pre-k. Our children shouldn't have to rely on luck or budget surpluses to get what research shows and parents know they need."

ASSOCIATED REPORT: Report: Leadership Matters: Governors’ Pre-K Proposals Fiscal Year 2009.