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In 2010, State Preschool Spending Down, Says New Report

Today, the National Institute for Early Education Research, NIEER, released its annual yearbook, The State of Preschool 2010, which shows that total state funding for preschool declined by nearly $30 million; the first decline since NIEER began tracking in 2002.

The report credits the economic stimulus with cushioning preschool from further declines, but warns that per-pupil funds declined in 19 of 40 states and cautions that further declines are likely as stimulus funds run out.The report also notes that California consolidated several child care and preschool programs into one large, full-year program that could be counted toward its preschool spending, increasing its per-pupil spending figure but not actually serving more children than in the past.

As spending decreased, so did progress raising quality. The report shows no existing state pre-K programs made advances in meeting NIEER's benchmarks for teacher qualifications and training. On the bright side, two states, Alaska and Rhode Island, debuted small pilot programs that met all 10 of NIEER's quality benchmarks. NIEER's newsletter notes the recent 2011 federal budget deal made a portion of Race to the Top funds available for states to improve early care and education, which may change the picture in future.

Currently, state programs serve about 31 percent of all U.S. four-year-olds but only eight percent of three-year-olds. Only a handful of states make concerted effort to serve three-year-olds, and overall, access for three-year-olds declined by three percent.

Some readers may remember Pre-K Now's more optimistic December report on the state of state pre-K, which showed states holding steady on pre-K funding overall. It's important to know that NIEER's calculations capture many more funding sources than PreK Now, offering a more complete picture of the complex world of early education funding.

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