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The pandemic erased a decade of public preschool gains, report says

State-based preschool programs suffered big drops in enrollment and state funding during the height of the pandemic, according to an annual review by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. If there is any good news in the report, as NPR reported, it may be that federal relief money filled the hole left by states’ spending cuts.

“There is no time to waste. State-funded programs desperately need the resources to address pervasive problems in access to high-quality early learning and to support teachers,” says Allison Friedman-Krauss, NIEER assistant research professor and the parent of a preschooler.

NIEER has been releasing its annual State of Preschool report for two decades now, and this year’s edition, looking at the 2020-2021 school year, offers a dire snapshot of the pandemic’s impact on preschool in the U.S.

“The pandemic wiped out a decade of progress increasing enrollment in state-funded preschool programs,” the report warns, as NPR noted. 

According to the report, nearly 300,000 fewer children were enrolled in preschool during the 2020-2021 school year compared to 2019-2020 – an 18% drop. Given the timeframe, researchers chalk up the drop to pandemic-driven school closures and the challenges of providing preschool remotely.