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 researchers 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. And 10 states don’t offer any dollars to pay for prekindergarten classrooms.
“The state of preschool in America is a state of emergency,” said report author Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
That assessment — combined with Congress’ reluctance to spend new dollars — complicates President Barack Obama’s effort to expand pre-K programs across the country. Until existing programs’ shortcomings are fixed, it is likely to be a tough sell for Obama’s call for more preschool.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined Barnett on Monday in Washington to release the report and acknowledge the challenges in educating the nation’s youngest students within the existing and widely varied systems. Both Cabinet secretaries tried to portray the report’s dire verdict as a reason to push forward with a federally backed preschool program.
“This year’s report has some pretty grim news but I think it also highlights the urgency for the historic investment in early education that the president called for in his State of the Union,” said Sebelius, whose department runs the Head Start programs for the poorest young students.
Added Duncan: “The news here isn’t as good, isn’t as positive as we would like it to be.”
“If ever there was report that makes the case for the need for President Obama’s preschool-for-all proposal, this report is it,” the former Chicago public schools chief said.