Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Report: States Cut Pre-K Funding as Need Grows

As states search for budget cuts, preschool has apparently become a target.

A new report by the National Institute for Early Education Research has found that inflation-adjusted state funding for pre-kindergarten programs decreased by about $60 million in 2010-11. Per-pupil spending dropped by $145 per child to $4,151. The decrease happened even as $127 million in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) were distributed.

According to NIEER, there were about 1.3 million children enrolled in state programs in 31 states in 2010-11. Nationwide, about 28 percent of four-year-olds were enrolled in the programs. About 600,000 more children were enrolled than a decade ago–while per-pupil funding dropped more than $700 per child over that time span. The organization points out that Hispanics have the lowest enrollment rates of major ethnic groups. They are somewhat less likely to attend preschool at age four but far less likely to attend at age three.

The report gives a state-by-state breakdown that can help you localize the story to your community. The charts include information such as funding levels, quality and access.

You can also take a look at states that are heavily Hispanic. Of those, Arizona completely eliminated its early childhood block grant in 2010 and has no program.

As per-pupil funding is cut, quality is also threatened, according to the group. The study judges state programs on quality with 10 as the highest score. States are judged on benchmarks including teacher education levels, teacher training, class size and whether there are site visits to monitor quality. On the lower end, California and Florida only earned a three and Texas a four, for example. On the higher end, Illinois earned a nine and New Mexico an eight.

While Florida’s program quality ranked low, it topped the list in access. About 76 percent of 4-year-olds in the state are enrolled in state-funded pre-kindergarten. In Texas, about 52 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled. At the lower end, in California about 19 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled; in New Mexico, 15 percent are in programs.

California also saw larger spending cuts, with a $532 decrease in per-child spending over the prior year to $4,986 per child. Texas saw a $138 per student decrease to $3,761 per child; Florida cut $142 per student bringing funding to $2,422 per child; and Colorado cut $324 bringing the state to $2,044 per child.

Even as states decrease funding, the Obama administration has made early learning a key issue. The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday that five states will compete for $133 million in early learning grants: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see the impact on quality the winning states sees once the money is awarded.

Although the study doesn’t specifically breakdown access by race and ethnicity, you can still relate the cuts back to Hispanics. Many low-income Latino children are affected by the quality and access to these programs.