“If ever there was a report that makes the case for the need for President Obama's preschool-for-all proposal, this report is it,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, speaking at a release of the NIEER report on Monday.
Not all the news is bad on the preschool front, and state funding and enrollment vary dramatically from state to state. Ten states, for instance, have no public preschool program at all, while eight enroll more than half of all 4-year-olds in public pre-K programs. Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage, with more than 90 percent of 4-year-olds and nearly 70 percent of 3-year-olds enrolled, and Florida, Oklahoma, Vermont, Wisconsin, and West Virginia all served more than 60 percent of 4-year-olds in state-funded pre-K during the 2011-12 school year. Eleven states, meanwhile, have programs but served fewer than 10 percent of 4-year-olds.
The lack of enrollment growth for that school year, according to the report, was almost entirely due to 16 states that reduced their enrollment from the previous year – including four that reduced it by more than 10 percent.
And enrollment, cautions Dr. Barnett, is not the whole picture. Research makes clear that the benefits from preschool are only seen in high-quality programs, he says, and both the reduction in funding and the loss of “quality benchmarks” – things like comprehensive standards, training and degree requirements for teachers, and site visits – are troubling to him.