Per-student pre-K spending lowest in decade
By The Associated Press
Published: Monday, April 29, 2013, 6:51 a.m.
WASHINGTON — State funding for pre-kindergarten programs had its largest drop ever last year and states are now spending less per child than they did a decade ago, according to a report released Monday.
The report also found that more than a half million of those preschool students are in programs that don't even meet standards suggested by industry experts that would qualify for federal dollars.
Those findings — combined with Congress' reluctance to spend new dollars — complicate President Barack Obama's effort to expand pre-K programs across the country. While Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius continue to promote the president's proposal, researchers say existing programs are inadequate, and until their shortcomings are fixed there is little desire by lawmakers to get behind Obama's call for more preschool.
“The state of preschool was a state of emergency,” said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, which produced the report.
During his State of the Union speech, Obama proposed a federal-state partnership that would dramatically expand options for families with young children. Obama's plan would fund public preschool for any 4-year-old whose family income was below twice the federal poverty rate.
If it were in place this year, the plan would allow a family of four with two children to enroll students in a pre-K program if the family earned less than $46,566.
Students from families who earn more could participate in the program, but their parents would have to pay tuition based on their income. Eventually, 3-year-old students would be part of the program, too.
As part of his budget request, Obama proposed spending $75 billion over 10 years to help states get these new programs up and running. During the first years, Washington would pick up the majority of the cost before shifting costs to states.
“It's the most significant opportunity to expand access to pre-K that this nation has ever seen,” Barnett said of the president's proposal.
Obama proposed paying for this expansion by almost doubling the federal tax on cigarettes, to $1.95 per pack.
Obama's pre-K plan faces a tough uphill climb, though, with the tobacco industry opposing the tax that would pay for it and lawmakers from tobacco-producing states also skeptical. Conservative lawmakers have balked at starting another government program, as well. Obama's Democratic allies are clamoring to make it a priority.
To help it along, Duncan and Sebelius planned to join the report's researchers on Monday at a news conference to introduce the report, along with administration allies. They planned events later in the week to reiterate their support.
Yet those public events were unlikely to sway lawmakers who are already fighting among themselves over spending cuts that are forcing students to be dropped from existing preschool programs, the levying of higher fees for student loans and deep cuts for aid to military schools.
States spent about $5.1 billion on pre-K programs in 2011-12, the most recent school year, researchers wrote in the report.
Per-student funding for existing programs during that year dropped to an average of $3,841 for each student. It was the first time average spending per student dropped below $4,000 in today's dollars since researchers started tracking it during the 2001-02 academic year.
Adjusted for inflation, per-student funding has been cut by more than $1,000 during the last decade.
Yet nationwide, the amounts were widely varied. The District of Columbia spent almost $14,000 on every child in its program while the states of Colorado, South Carolina and Nebraska spent less than $2,000 per child.
“Whether you get a quality preschool program does depend on what ZIP code you are in,” Barnett said.
Among the 40 states that offer state-funded pre-K programs, 27 cut per-student spending last year. In total, that meant $548 million in cuts.
Money, of course, is not a guarantee for students' success. But students from poor schools generally lag students from better-funded counterparts and those students from impoverished families arrive in kindergarten less prepared than others.
In all, only 15 states and the District of Columbia spent enough money to provide quality programs, the researchers concluded. Those programs serve about 20 percent of the 1.3 million enrolled in state-funded prekindergarten programs.
“In far too many states, funding levels have fallen so low as to bring into question the effectiveness of their programs by any reasonable standard,” researchers wrote.
Part of the reason for the decreased spending are the lingering effects of the economic downturn in 2008, coupled with the end of federal stimulus dollars to plug state budgets.
“Although the recession is technically over, the recovery in state revenues has lagged the recovery of the general economy and has been slower and weaker than following prior recessions. This does not bode well for digging back out of the hole created by years of cuts,” the researchers wrote in their report.
Nationally, 42 percent of students — or more than a half million students — were in programs that met fewer than half of the benchmarks researchers identified as important to gauging a program's effectiveness, such as classrooms with fewer than 20 students and teachers with bachelor's degrees.
That, too, suggests problems for Obama's plan to expand pre-K programs, especially if Washington insists its partners meet quality benchmarks to win federal dollars.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: Enough of these Steelers already
- Penguins’ Orpik out; Neal to have phone hearing
- Penguins players are not out looking for fights
- Likely loss of Steelers draft pick looms because of Tomlin misstep
- Steelers WR Brown says ‘I thought I had it clean’ after wild, near-miss finish
- Cranberry woman wins Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant
- Multi-vehicle crash closes Route 22 in Murrysville
- Pitt to face MAC champ Bowling Green in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
- Steelers’ NFL playoff hopes are all but gone in loss to Dolphins
- Defensive lapses against Dolphins outweigh positives for Steelers
- Former Steeler Wallace plays bit part in Dolphins victory