Pew Study: Despite Budget Shortfalls, the Majority of Governors are Increasing or Protecting Pre-Kindergarten Funding

Pew Study: Despite Budget Shortfalls, the Majority of Governors are Increasing or Protecting Pre-Kindergarten Funding

Even as they confront the fiscal crisis and whittle spending to core priorities, the majority of the nation's governors are increasing or protecting their state's investments in pre-kindergarten programs in the coming fiscal year. Five times as many governors are proposing to protect or increase pre-k, as are those who are calling for cuts to early education. Three governors are even introducing new initiatives in states that currently offer no publicly funded pre-k, according to a national analysis released today by Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States.

“Leaders of both parties recognize that pre-k is precisely the kind of fiscally responsible investment we need to achieve both economic and educational progress,” said Susan K. Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “Given the evidence showing the proven benefits for children and the return on investment to taxpayers, it is wise for states to increase, or at least protect, pre-k even in a recession.”

The non-partisan annual report, “Leadership Matters: Governors' Pre-K Budget Proposals Fiscal Year 2010,” evaluates budget proposals for the next year and governors' remarks in recent state of the state addresses to determine which leaders count voluntary, high-quality pre-k among their top education and economic development strategies.  The findings underscore a growing interest among federal and state policymakers in targeting limited public resources to effective programs backed by research. This year's report also addresses federal action, such as the Obama administration's inclusion of funding proposals for early education in the stimulus package. 

In the ten states with the largest budget shortfalls, the report revealed notable differences in gubernatorial priorities and pre-k leadership.  While Governors Charlie Crist of Florida, Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ted Kulongoski of Oregon are proposing pre-k increases, their counterparts in states facing similar constraints, Governors M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut and David Paterson of New York, chose not to increase or protect current pre-k investments, decisions that limit parents' choices and diminish young children's chances to start school ready to succeed.

In fact, Governor Corzine (New Jersey) called for a 14 percent increase in pre-k investment, including the creation of an “incentive fund” to encourage school districts' use of federal recovery funds to expand pre-k.
Highlights of this year's analysis include:

  • Fourteen governors are proposing to increase investment in early education.
  • Thirteen governors are proposing to “flat-fund” early education programs, preserving current investment levels.
  • The governors of Alaska, North Dakota and Rhode Island — states that currently do not fund pre-k — are proposing new pre-k initiatives.
  • The governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina proposed a cut in pre-k investments.
  • Total proposed state investment in pre-k is four percent greater than FY09 appropriations (which was $5.2 billion in 43 states and the District of Columbia). 
  • If passed, these proposals would bring total combined state pre-k funding to $5.4 billion in 43 states and the District of Columbia for FY10.

While Pre-K Now has criticized governors in past years for failing to propose budget increases that improve access to quality early education opportunities, in the current economic context, “flat funding” can be viewed as a commitment to protect critical programs.

“The governors who stand out as leaders on this issue are those who know their states can't afford to wait for a better fiscal climate to invest in early education,” said Danielle M. Gonzales, project manager of  Pre-K Now.  “They recognize the link between helping families ensure children start school ready to learn and succeed, and the economic prosperity they want for their states.”

Pre-k is one of the most well-researched public education strategies of the last forty years. The preponderance of evidence shows quality early education helps children succeed in school and in life, and results in savings for every dollar invested.  Children who complete quality pre-k programs enter school more prepared cognitively and socially, are less likely to be held back or need special education services, are more likely to complete high school, and become more successful and productive adults.