The importance of proper nutrition, nurturing, and socialization during early childhood cannot be overstated. For many American families — single-parent and low-income families in particular — early childhood programs are only accessible through publicly-funded pre-K education. But the accessibility and quality of these programs varies considerably between states.
State spending on public pre-kindergarten programs totalled $7.3 billion in the 2016-2017 academic year, a 7% increase from the previous year. Bucking the national trend, six states reduced pre-K funding last year. North Dakota completely eliminated state funding for early childhood education, joining five other states that have no public pre-K budget.
State funding can affect both the quality and accessibility of pre-K programs, directly impacting enrollment rates in preschools. Generally, states that spend more on pre-K on a per child basis report higher enrollment rates. Nationwide, 47.7% of 3- and 4-year olds are enrolled in pre-K. Among states, pre-K enrollment ranges from 30.6% of eligible children in Idaho to 65.6% in Connecticut.
Quality early childhood education programs have been shown to improve education outcomes in later years, independent of the child’s social and economic status. Advocates argue that successful students are more likely to be contributing members of society, and as a result, investment in early childhood education could ultimately be a cost-saving measure for state governments.
Sterling Lloyd, assistant director at policy advocacy group Education Week Research Center, explained the benefits of early childhood education. “Studies have suggested that high quality preschool programs can help children enter elementary school more ready to learn and succeed,” Lloyd told 24/7 Wall St.
24/7 Wall St. created an index consisting of a state’s pre-K spending, enrollment rates, assistance for needy families, fourth grade reading proficiency, and certain quality standards, to rank the overall quality of early childhood education programs, from the worst to the best.