This State Has the Worst Early Education

Education levels are among the best predictors of job compensation later in life. People with less than high school degrees are paid less than those with a high school diploma. People with bachelor’s degrees tend to be paid better than those who graduated high school. Quality educations are often better in affluent areas. Poor cities tend to educate young people worse than richer ones.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have set back the education of many students. Those that went to school remotely probably did not learn as much or as well as those who went to school before the spread of the disease. Experts worry that many of these young people may not catch up with educational attainment for a year, if they can catch up at all.

Using data from the National Institute of Early Childhood Education Research and the U.S. Census Bureau, 24/7 Wall St. created an index consisting of a state’s pre-K spending, enrollment rates, assistance for needy families, fourth-grade reading and math proficiency and certain quality standards to rank states’ overall quality of early childhood education programs, from the worst to the best.

Some states have tried to help children from low-income families because their educations tend to be worse than those from affluent areas. Children in foster care and with disabilities are targeted as well. The affluent, on the other hand, can often send children to private schools.

The 24/7 Wall St. analysis showed that Idaho has the worst early education among all states. Here are some details:

  • Share of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-K: 31.6% (second lowest)
  • Annual state pre-K spending: $0 (the lowest)
  • State pre-K spending per pre-K student: $0 (the lowest)
  • Fourth graders proficient in reading and math: 37.4% (12th highest) and 43.0% (18th highest), respectively

Based on a range of key measures, Idaho has the worst early childhood education of any state in the country. As of 2020, the state did not invest at all in public preschool, making it difficult for lower-income families in some parts of the state to put their 3- and 4-year-old children in school. Only 31.6% of 3- and 4-year-olds in the state are enrolled in pre-K, nearly the smallest share of any state.

Though it does not have a state-sponsored pre-K program, Idaho does use federal money granted through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for early childhood education. Last year, Idaho used a TANF grant to conduct a needs assessment on early childhood education.

Our methodology: To determine the states with the best and worst early education, 24/7 Wall St. developed an index of six different measures of preschool educational quality, including funding, the percentage of children in school, academic achievement and education quality. Data on state, local and federal spending on preschool per child by state in the 2019-20 school year came from the National Institute for Early Education Research’s State of Preschool 2020 Yearbook and was included in the index at full weight.

Data on the percentage of 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in preschool came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey and was included in the index at full weight. Data on both the percentage of fourth-grade students who are at or above the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ proficiency level in math and in reading in 2019 came from The Nation’s Report Card and were each included in the index at half weight.

Data on the ratio of children receiving Child Care and Development Fund payments for every 100 children 18 and under living in poverty in 2019 was calculated using data from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the 2019 ACS and was included in the index at full weight.

Finally, the number of NIEER quality standard benchmarks that each state’s preschool program met (out of 10) as of 2020 came from the NIEER’s State of Preschool 2020 Yearbook and was included in the index at full weight.

Click here to see which states have the best and worst high school educations.