Pew Report: Facing Historic Budget Gaps, Most States Protect Pre-Kindergarten

Pew Report: Facing Historic Budget Gaps, Most States Protect Pre-Kindergarten

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia – which faced budget gaps of up to 35 percent – chose to increase or hold steady funding for pre-kindergarten education, according to an analysis released today by Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States.  Legislators added dollars for existing pre-k initiatives in 13 states and approved new programs in two others, creating a modest national net gain in funding despite cuts in ten states.

“When you consider the dire economic context, this is a victory for more than one million families with children enrolled in pre-k,” said Marci Young, project director of Pre-K Now.  “In most states, lawmakers recognize that quality pre-k should be a core priority because it provides lasting benefits for children and strong economic returns on investment for taxpayers.”

The non-partisan annual report, “Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2010,” evaluates state budgets to determine which legislatures count voluntary, high-quality pre-k among their top education reform strategies.  Using these numbers, Americans can determine whether their elected leaders are committing the resources necessary to develop the successful students and workers central to economic recovery.

The report sheds light on the advantages of one particular funding strategy for early education.  Nine states and the District of Columbia include pre-k in their school funding formulas, allocating per-child funding for 4-year-olds based on enrollment, just as they do for K-12 students.  All of these states expect spending to grow as more parents choose high-quality early education for their children.  By contrast, in all the states that reduced investments, pre-k is funded through the general appropriations process, which is more vulnerable to cuts.

“Votes Count” also provides examples of how state legislatures and program administrators from Florida, Maine, Maryland and Oregon have used resources from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the federal stimulus package – to bolster pre-k programs in these lean fiscal times.

Highlights of this year's analysis include:

  • Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia increased or are projected to increase pre-k investments by a total of more than $187 million.

    • Thirteen legislatures increased investment in existing programs by nearly $130 million: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
    • Two states that previously had no state pre-k programs approved pilot initiatives: Alaska and Rhode Island.
    • Nine states and the District of Columbia anticipate increases through the school funding formula (Texas is included in this group as well but counted only once in the tally of 23 states with increased investments).
  • Six states maintained investments at FY09 levels: Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri Nevada and Pennsylvania.
  • Among the states suffering the 10 worst budget shortfalls (measured as a percentage of the budget), only Connecticut and New York approved a cut to early education programs.
  • Ten states decreased funding: Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.
  • Ohio's cut is estimated to deny pre-k to the largest number of children, at least 12,000.
  • Arizona had not finalized its pre-k budget at press time.

“A tough economy is even more reason states should invest in pre-k,” continued Young.  “These programs give children and families a stable, high-quality early education that many could not afford on their own.”

Pre-k is one of the most well-researched public education strategies of the last forty years.  The vast body of evidence shows that quality early learning helps children succeed in school and in life, and results in savings to states for every dollar invested.  Children who complete quality pre-k programs are more academically and socially prepared when they enter school, less likely to be held back or need special education services, and more likely to complete high school and contribute to their community as adults.  For more details about “Votes Count,” please visit