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California preschool education not up to standards, finds report
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  • Five states 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.


  • 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 spending per child was almost $700 below its 2001-2002 level.
  • 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.
  • After adjusting for inflation, state funding per child declined in 19 of 40 states with programs.  While only three states increased per-child spending by more than 10 percent, nine states 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.

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.