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Comparing Pre-K and K-12 Spending Trends: It's Not Just the Economy, Stupid

Per yesterday's post on the new NIEER Pre-K Yearbook and declining state per-pupil spending on pre-k: I think it's useful to contrast these trends in state pre-k spending with the contemporaneous trends in per pupil spending for public elementary and secondary schools over the past decade.

K12vsprekspendingtrends.png



As the above chart shows, per-pupil spending on pre-k has trended down pretty consistently over the past decade--declining by about 12% from 2002 through 2009 (unfortunately, I could only find average per-pupil spending on K-12 through 2009, so I didn't run the comparison past that point--If I had, the % decline in pre-k spending would be even higher). Over the same period, per-pupil expenditures on public elementary and secondary education increased by about 13%--or over $1,200 per-pupil. As a result, average spending per pre-k pupil went from 52% of average spending on K-12 student in 2002 to only 40% in 2009.

Now, to be fair, per-pupil spending doesn't tell the whole story here. Because states were expanding pre-k enrollment during much of this period, total state spending on pre-k rose considerably between 2002 and 2009. But the size of those increases--about $2.5 billion in nominal trems--pales in comparison to the $164 billion increase in K-12 spending over the same period.

This, to my mind, highlights a failure of early childhood advocacy over the past decade: It we look at trends in pre-k spending in a vacuum, it looks like pre-k advocates made a lot of progress. If we look at them compared to trends in K-12 or higher ed funding, it looks like a disaster. And we're now in a period where getting new local, state, or federal spending for education--early childhood, K-12, or higher--is increasingly challenging.

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