Recession Forces Severe Cuts to Some State Preschool Programs

Apr 26, 2011, 13:08 ET from National Institute for Early Education Research

Annual survey labels impact 'a depression for many young children'

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For the second year in a row preschool-age children felt the effects of the recession, only the impact was far greater the second year, according the annual survey of state-funded early education programs.

"Overall, state cuts to preschool funding transformed the recession into a depression for many young children," said W. Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and author of the report, The State of Preschool 2010: State Preschool Yearbook.

"In the 2009-2010 school year the effects of the recession became fully apparent despite federal government aid to the states for education," Barnett said. "Total enrollment barely increased over the prior year.  Total spending by the states decreased, and per-child spending declined in inflation-adjusted dollars."

The funding situation may get worse even as the economy slowly recovers.  Federal funds to help states weather the recession are now gone. Without the aid from the federal economic stimulus, funding per child would have been even lower, approaching its lowest level since 2002 when NIEER began tracking state preschool performance.

The Yearbook findings were released today at the Oyster-Adams Bilingual Elementary School by Barnett and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The depth of the decline varied considerably by state.  A few made modest progress.  Many held steady.  In others, cutbacks were sometimes severe.

On the positive side, two states, Alaska and Rhode Island, started programs for the first time. These are the first new states to provide pre-K in many years, though both efforts are modest pilot programs. The top 10 states ranked by percentage of children served at age 4 were Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia, Georgia, Vermont, Wisconsin, Texas, New York, Arkansas, and Iowa. On the other end of the scale, 10 states still provided no state-funded preschool education programs. They were Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

NIEER reports state rankings on enrollment, spending, and quality standards (how many of 10 benchmarks the state meets). Key findings in this year's Yearbook include:


  • Five states (Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio) now enroll fewer children in state preschool programs than they did 10 years ago.
  • Enrollment nationally increased by 26,996 children. Nearly 1.3 million children attended state-funded preschool education, more than 1 million at age 4 alone.
  • Fourteen states increased the percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-K programs by at least one percentage point while seven states decreased by at least one percentage point in the 2009-2010 school year.
  • Enrollment of 3-year-olds decreased across the country with nine states cutting enrollment by 10 percent or more. They were Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington.


  • The 2009-2010 school year was the first tracked by NIEER in which total state funding for pre-K fell from the prior year.
  • State pre-K spending per child decreased by $114 to $4,028 adjusted for inflation even with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). This year NIEER adds a second estimate of per-child spending, $4,212, which reflects a redefinition of California's preschool program.
  • State spending per child was almost $700 below its 2001-2002 level.
  • After adjusting for inflation, state funding per child declined in 19 of 40 states with programs.  While only three states (Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont) increased per-child spending by more than 10 percent, nine states (Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Carolina) cut per-child spending by more than 10 percent.

Quality Standards

  • Twenty-three of 40 states failed to fully meet NIEER benchmarks for teacher qualifications and 26 failed to meet the benchmark for assistant teacher qualifications.
  • Five state programs met all 10 quality standards. They were Alabama, Alaska, one of the three Louisiana programs, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.
  • Four states (Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia) improved on NIEER's Quality Standards Checklist, but two states (Ohio and Nebraska) lost ground.

Years of research have demonstrated the benefits of high-quality preschool. Compared to children denied high-quality preschool, children who attend are more likely to graduate high school and go on to higher education. They are less likely to require special education or repeat a grade, become teenage parents, or commit crimes as teens or adults, all at great savings to taxpayers. As adults, they are more likely to be qualified to fill the demand for skilled workers that will keep America competitive in the global economy.

Cutting state pre-K puts pressure on the larger system of public supports for early learning that includes federally funded Head Start and child care.  Congress is considering steep cuts to Head Start and child care that would further decrease support at a time when parents are less able to pay for early education on their own. Rather than cut federal support for early learning, Congress should find ways to increase support.  The President has proposed an Early Learning Challenge Fund to incentivize states to increase and maintain their support rather than cut.

Summing up the findings of the Yearbook, Barnett said:

"America has far to go before every child has access to a high-quality education even at age 4, much less earlier.  Yet, in much of the rest of the world this opportunity is taken for granted. As America falls behind in the early education of our children, we also fall behind in school success and economic competitiveness.  As we exit the current recession, America will make critical decisions about how much we are willing to invest in our children's future.  Decisions about state pre-K will be among the most important."

The National Institute for Early Education Research (, 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.

CONTACT:  Jen Fitzgerald
732-932-4350 x250

SOURCE National Institute for Early Education Research