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Maryland moves slowly toward pre-K enrollment goal

311131 9601Maryland has maintained its commitment to pre-K even as many states are faltering in their efforts to deliver high-quality preschool education to children most in need, says a landmark national report capping 10 years of research.


The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook shows Maryland made limited progress toward its 2012-2013 goal of providing access for every 4-year-old by enrolling an additional thousand children in 2010-2011 than the previous year. Maryland remained ranked 12th nationally among 39 states with pre-K programs. Maryland only enrolled one quarter of its 4-year-olds a decade ago, and now reaching 37 percent. While the state only ranks 18th for state per child spending, it ranks 3rd in total resources per child due to effectively leveraging local and federal resources. Maryland continues to demonstrate high quality among its programs, meeting 9 of 10 research-based quality benchmarks. Recognized for its accomplishments and plans for the future, Maryland was one of nine states to receive a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant in 2011.

“For the second year in a row, nationally we’re seeing declines in real spending and per-child spending that strip resources from pre-K classrooms, many of which are already funded at levels below what it takes to deliver high-quality programs,” said Steve Barnett, director of the nonpartisan National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University that has surveyed state preschool programs on a number of measures since 2001-2002. “Maryland has demonstrated commitment and strong leadership to early education over the past decade. It is seeing that lasting academic and social outcomes can be achieved when adequate investments are made in high-quality early education. The challenge remains to provide more children with early education opportunities, particularly those in great need, if it intends to deliver on its commitment to universal access to pre-K. Neighboring West Virginia and the District of Columbia appear to be making progress toward their promise of offering voluntary, universal pre-K without sacrificing quality.”

The findings

The 2011 State Preschool Yearbook shows total state funding for the nation’s pre-K programs decreased by nearly $60 million from the previous year to the 2010-2011 school year. In the past 10 years, real spending on state pre-K has declined by about 15 percent, or more than $700 per child.

“A decline of this magnitude should serve as a wake-up call for parents and policy leaders about how well we are preparing today’s preschoolers to succeed in school and later find good jobs in a competitive market,” Barnett said.

The Yearbook findings, which include NIEER’s data over the past 10 years and recommendations for policymakers, were released April 10 at Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C. U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Barnett at the event.

Despite a decade of progress in which many states began or improved pre-K programs, state investments in high-quality pre-K are now slipping. In fact, many children who need access to high-quality pre-K programs still cannot attend.

Twenty-eight percent of all 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds were served by state pre-K programs in the 2010-2011 school year, raising total enrollment to more than 1.3 million. But some states have opted to expand enrollment rather than maintain quality, resulting in greater access but lower standards. “If ignored, states run the risk of substituting inexpensive child care for preschool education,” Barnett said.

“States need to plan for future growth in pre-K just as they would for major projects, such as infrastructure,” said Barnett, “and avoid viewing pre-K as a year-to-year funding decision.” He praised the federal $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge that is providing grants to nine states for improving quality, but said more needs to be done. President Obama has called on Congress to increase the federal commitment to states for early childhood education.

State pre-K generally has enjoyed bipartisan support during its expansion over the past decade. An overwhelming body of research shows that high-quality pre-K prepares children to succeed in school, enroll in college or career training, and helps more students ultimately get better jobs that can help the nation’s economy. This year’s report highlights national trends in pre-K programs over past 10 years.

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