California earned a lackluster rating on state spending, preschool access and program quality for early childhood education for the 2011-12 school year, according to the annual State of Preschool Report released Monday by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
Since early childhood education is not part of the K-12 system in most states, funding for and provision of the service varies widely. The annual report by the Rutgers University-based research organization is the only national study that gathers funding and policy data on early childhood education from each state and puts it into a comprehensive report that measures spending on a per-pupil basis.
“This is the thing we look to,” said Ernesto Saldaña of Early Edge California, an advocacy organization for early childhood education. “We get to compare with other states and see where we have to go.”
Among the 40 states that provide some form of state-funded preschool, California scored middling marks for both the public preschool access it provides and the amount it spends per enrolled child. Eighteen percent of 4-year-olds attend state-funded preschool programs in the state, and 9 percent of 3-year-olds do. By comparison, Florida sends 79.4 percent of its 4-year-olds to public preschool, the most of any state, but none of its 3-year-olds.
California spends an average of $4,136 per enrolled student. New Jersey, which pays preschool teachers in its public program on par with K-12 teachers, spends the most of any state at $11,659 per student.
Texas, the second most populous state after California, spends less per child, but sends more children to preschool.
California was also one of only five states in the report to meet fewer than half of the 10 quality standards laid out by the institute. (See the slideshow below for more detail.) Based on stated policies and self-reporting on the annual survey, California met four of the 10 standards.
The poor showing reinforces Saldaña’s view that California should be doing much more to provide free public preschool in the state. “We see this as an opportunity to go to state legislators and talk about the importance of restoring cuts,” he said.
More than $1 billion has been cut from preschool and child care funding in California in the last five years and there are about 110,000 fewer spots in state preschool now.
With the exception of a few stand-outs like New Jersey and Alaska, the national report found that the entire country has quite a way to go, said Steven Barnett, the lead researcher on the report. Though many states saw their funding cut drastically during the recession and are restoring some of that funding now, Barnett warned that it would be easy to see the planned increases as better than they actually are.
“It looks better if you just say, ‘How much did we dig ourselves out?’ than if you look at how deep the hole was to start,” Barnett said.
That mistake isn’t likely to be made in California, where the current state budget does not propose any increase to early childhood care or education, but holds funding flat.
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