Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Toddlers, Enemies of the People! The Decimation of Preschool in America

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER: www.nieer.org) has just published its annual “State of Preschool” survey, which shows that overall funding for pre-kindergarten programs dramatically declined. The Washington Times reports that states spent an average of $114 less per child in 2009-2010 compared with the previous year, despite receiving extra money from the federal stimulus package. Compared with a decade ago, they are spending an average of $700 less per child.

Demonstrating the clarity and brilliance that comes from an elite private school education, Secretary of State Arne Duncan said that "Three- and four-year-olds don't vote, don't hire lobbyists and don't have a union." (Quote is from the Los Angeles Times.)

Steven Barnett, co-director of the NIEER, who conducted the survey, said “We don’t eliminate first grade in tough economic times …why do we cut preschool? (Quote is from the 4 LA Kids blog). He also warned that the cuts will negatively affect the school readiness of youngsters. Valerie Strauss (The Answer Sheet) pointed out that considerable research correlates high quality preschool programs with improved high school graduation rates. She also notes that neither Obama’s blueprint for rewriting No Child Left Behind nor Race to the Top includes high-quality preschool, suggesting that the Ed Secretary and the President need to coordinate their propaganda better.

Five states—Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio — now enroll fewer children than they did 10 years ago. However, the biggest hit was to programs serving 3-year olds, with nine states cutting enrollment by 10% or more. According to the Times, less than 300,000 three-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded pre-school programs, out of 1.3 million preschoolers in funded programs.

The report also looked at the quality of schools, examining 10 standards. 23 of the 40 states with funded programs failed to meet the institute’s benchmarks for teacher qualifications, while 26 failed to meet the benchmark for assistant teacher qualifications. Only five states met all 10 standards: Alabama, Alaska, one of the three Louisiana programs, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.

While California’s preschool funding held steady last year, only about 17% of the state's 4-year-olds attended state-funded schools, according to the Los Angeles Times. This ranks California 23rd out of the 40 states that have funded programs. Worse, California met only four of NIEER’s ten standards, including site visits, child-to-staff ratios, and teacher training. With expected funding cuts, the number of students served will likely decline further, while the quality of existing programs will likely deteriorate. In order to close the state’s budget gap, Gov. Brown signed legislation that cuts 15% from subsidized child care and early learning programs. Brown also signed legislation that shifts $1 billion from state and county First 5 programs, which supports preschool education. According to the LA Times, this could result in a loss of 28,000 preschool slots.

As bad as it was last year, next year will be worse. State funding decreased by almost $30 million last year and would have fallen by an additional $49.3 million if it weren’t for stimulus funding. Stimulus funds have since dried up and Congress is considering slashing Head Start and child care programs. States across the country are grappling with huge deficits and many are considering (or have already) implementing cuts to early childhood education, health and welfare. The likely consequences for k-12 education are increasing numbers of students who are ill-prepared for school and a worsening achievement gap.

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