Report: Despite Grim Economy, Most State Legislatures Continue to Prioritize Pre-K

Report: Despite Grim Economy, Most State Legislatures Continue to Prioritize Pre-K

In spite of worsening economic conditions across the country, the majority of states stood firm in their commitment to investing in pre-kindergarten programs, according to "Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2009," a state-by-state analysis of pre-k funding released today by Pre-K Now with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts. This year's "Votes Count" also unveils a new list of the places families would have the best and worst chances of enrolling their children in a high-quality, state-funded pre-k program; ten states make the notable lists.

"In the face of drastic cuts to state and household budgets across the country, this report offers some very good news," said Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now. "Most state legislatures recognize quality pre-k as a smart policy that promises substantial returns to states, provides immediate economic relief to families and improves the future prospects of young children and the communities in which they will live and work as adults."

The report sheds new light on the impact of America's economic downturn and the role of business leaders in legislative support for pre-k funding increases. Motivated by concerns about workforce development and dismal high-school graduation rates, business leaders – along with a growing number of parents, educators and school administrators – are helping Republicans and Democrats join forces to advance pre-k as a prudent, evidence-based economic and education reform strategy. In places as far-flung and politically diverse as Alabama, Michigan, Kansas and Virginia, pre-k support is crossing political aisles.

Additional report highlights:

  • Net state investments in pre-k will increase by more than $309 million nationally, to $5.2 billion in the next fiscal year, providing an estimated 46,000 families with new access to state-funded pre-k;
  • The District of Columbia and Louisiana join an elite group of seven states already providing or phasing in pre-k for all children: Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma and West Virginia;
  • Two states attempted to divert funds earmarked for early childhood programs: Kentucky and Arizona;
  • Nine states anticipate increases for pre-k programs funded through their school funding formulas, the most stable source a state can provide;
  • For the second year in a row, Iowa had the highest percent increase in pre-k support at 73%; and
  • Two of the dozen states in the "Pre-K Wilderness" (those without a state-funded pre-k program) took important first steps toward establishing quality programs: Hawaii and Rhode Island.

"Some states know it, but too many still don't: a tough economy is even more reason to invest in pre-k programs," said Robert Dugger, managing director for Tudor Investment Corp. and the advisory board chair for the Partnership for America's Economic Success. "These programs are ultimately about helping children meet their great potential for learning, which is what a country needs to prioritize if it is to build human capital and compete in the 21st century."