The National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual "State of Preschool Yearbook" today. The report, which my colleague Andrew Rotherham teased at TIME last week, is a comprehensive national look at spending, enrollment, and a host of other features in state-funded pre-k programs.
The big headline for this year's report is that states cut spending on pre-k in 2010-11: To the tune of some $50 million in nominal terms and $60 million after adjusting for inflation. At the same time, state pre-k enrollment increased nationally--and in 22 states--bringing the total number of children served to 1.3 million, or 28 percent of 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds.
Put those two trends together, and you have declining average spending per-pupil on pre-k--continuing a decade-long trend. Ten years after NIEER began publishing its annual report, average state spending on pre-k is over $700 less, in inflation adjusted terms, than when NIEER started reporting. That broad trend glosses over considerable variation in states, but it's still troubling.
After a decade of pre-k advocacy, barely more than one in four 4-year-olds attends state-funded pre-k, less than one in 20 3-year-olds do, and the average spending of $4,847--taking all funding sources into account--is less than half of what K-12 public schools spend and not enough to ensure a high-quality educational experience for these children. Add on top of that an environment where state policymakers are cutting funds for pre-k and child care, and you get a pretty bleak picture for America's youngest learners--one that $133 million in federal funds for Early Learning Challenge is hardly going to change.