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California preschool education not up to standards, finds report

POSTED April 26, 2011 9:28 p.m.

The future of preschool education in California is in dire straits, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), which just released its “State of Preschool 2010” report.

“The reality is, California may be on a track to de-investing in pre-K as result of legislation calling for 15 percent across-the-board cuts to subsidy programs and reductions in the Standard Reimbursement Rate (SRR), both of which are likely to impact preschool education,” said W. Steven Barnett, co-director of the NIEER and author of the report.

While the report showed California increased access to preschool programs, the state continued to be one of only five states in the nation to meet fewer than half of 10 benchmarks for pre-K quality standards and the state continued to rank in the bottom half of all states for access to state pre-K, according to the annual survey of state-funded preschool programs.

Nationwide, Barnett warned that preschool-age children felt the effects of the recession for the second year in a row only the impact was far greater the second year.

 “Overall, state cuts to preschool funding transformed the recession into a depression for many young children,” said Barnett.

 “In the 2009-2010 school year the effects of the recession became fully apparent despite federal government aid to the states for education,” he 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, NIEER forecasted.  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.
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.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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