N.M. Pre-K ranks 27 on funding

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Recession hits programs nationally; more cuts expected

By Special to the Monitor

New Mexico ranked 23rd nationally for percentage of children enrolled in pre-K, an important gain, according to the annual survey of state-funded preschool programs released today.   

It served 17 percent of its 4-year-olds, up from 13 percent in the prior year.

The State of Preschool 2009 showed that New Mexico met 8 of 10 quality standards benchmarks, but ranked only 27th for state funding per child.  The FY ’11 state budget cut the program further.

“Funding cuts hurt children by limiting both quality and enrollment,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University and report author. “Rigorous evaluations of New Mexico’s program finds that it has strong positive effects on children’s school readiness.”

Barnett warned that preschool-age children across the country are feeling the impact of the recession as states cut back on early education programs, according to the report that ranks all states on enrollment in state-funded preschool programs, the amount states spent per child, and how many of NIEER’s 10 quality benchmarks a state met.

“We are seeing a pause in the rapid increase in state preschool programs that we have seen in the last several years,” Barnett said.  “In some states enrollment has been cut back to the lowest levels in many years.  Other states have cut funding and quality.

“The immediate future of pre-K seems much more perilous than past trends might suggest,” Barnett said.  “State budgets will more fully bear the brunt of the recession in 2010 and 2011.”  Looking ahead, pre-K cuts are proposed for next year in 11 states including Arizona, Illinois, Florida, and New York – Arizona has proposed cutting the program entirely.   More cuts may be coming as state legislators cope with budget shortfalls.   

Nationally, the report showed that the average amount states spent per child, when adjusted for inflation, declined from $4,179 to $4,143 in 2009, ending an upward trend.  Real spending per child declined in 24 of 38 states with programs.

Total enrollment and spending increased, but not in every state.  In nine states the percentage of children enrolled actually declined, and 12 states provide no state pre-K for its children.  Other key findings showed modest growth in some areas and vast discrepancies between states:

Enrollment nationally increased by more than 81,000. More than

1.2 million children attended state-funded preschool education, one million at age 4.   

Total funding for state pre-K rose to more than $5 billion, a state funding increase of $446 million, about half the increase of the previous year.  

Twenty-three of 38 states with state-funded preschool failed to fully meet NIEER      benchmarks for teacher qualifications and 26 failed to meet the benchmark for assistant teacher qualifications.        

Programs in six states met fewer than half the quality standards benchmarks.

Oklahoma remained the only state where almost every child had the opportunity to      attend a quality preschool education program at age 4.  

Oklahoma was rated as the leader of the top 10 states in the country followed by Arkansas, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Louisiana and Tennessee. The top 10 ranking is based on enrollment, quality standards, funding adequacy, and evidence of program effectiveness.    

“With more families facing economic hardship, publicly supported preschool is more important than ever,” Barnett said.  

He cited new research published in the journal Child Development showing that low family income has disproportionately more negative effects on preschool-age children than on older children and adolescents. Those effects include higher school dropout rates, lower income as adults, and greater adult health problems.

“We need to get the recession babies on a progression path so they don’t carry the scars for a lifetime,” Barnett said.  

He called on the federal government to place greater emphasis on providing aid to states for educationally effective pre-K programs.

Editor’s note: The National Institute for Early Education Research (www.nieer.org), a unit of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research. NIEER is supported through grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and others.