Investment in High-Quality Prekindergarten Programs Pays Off

While the results from pre-K education are well documented, the current funding and availability of early education varies widely.  The recent recession has made it difficult for states to continue funding state-run pre-K programs, resulting in a decrease of $442 in the average state pre-K funding per child. Enrollment in state-run pre-k programs has remained relatively flat.

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The effects of high-quality prekindergarten programs are well documented.

  • High-quality pre-K has been shown to produce substantial gains in school readiness, achievement and educational attainment, higher productivity in the labor force, and decreases in social problems like crime and delinquency.1
  • In 2012, more than 1.3 million 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in 52 state-run pre-K programs in 40 states.1
  • The 2005 follow-up of the Perry Preschool Project found that every dollar spent on high-quality prekindergarten programs returned $12.90 through age 40, which includes taxes on additional earnings and savings in education, welfare and crime. The Perry Preschool Project was originally studied in the 1960s, by HighScope Educational Research Foundation, an independent nonprofit research, development, training, and public outreach organization.2
  • The Minneapolis Federal Reserve backs up the quality returns to pre-K education, estimating the real return of the Perry School Project to society to be more than 12 percent, with less disruptive students and fewer crimes committed.3 
  • The University of Minnesota conducted the Chicago Longitudinal Study, beginning in 1986, to investigate the effects of government-funded kindergarten programs for 1,539 children in the Chicago Public Schools. A 2002 report on the success of the Child-Parent Center Program noted a $7.14-to-1 benefit-cost ratio,4 with a 2011 follow-up showing about 11-to-1 return on the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, a program similar to current pre-K program designs.5

The current funding and availability of early education varies widely.

  • Only 10 states—Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming—did not offer pre-K education in 2012.6
  • The average state pre-K funding per child decreased by $442, from $4,283 in 2011 to $3,841 in 2012.
  • The 2011-12 school year was the worst in a decade for progress in access to high-quality pre-K for America’s children. State funding for pre-K for that timeframe fell by more than half a billion dollars, the largest one-year drop ever.
  • State funding per child for pre-K declined in 27 of 40 states with programs during the 2011-12 school year. In 13 states, per-child spending fell by 10 percent or more from the previous year. Only 12 states increased funding per child in 2011-12.
  • Florida leads the nation in the number of 4-year-olds served, with 79.4 percent enrolled in pre-K. Rhode Island is at the bottom of the list, serving less than 1 percent of its 4-year-olds.

The National Institute for Early Education Research has created a checklist that rates the quality of state pre-K programs. Elements of high-quality early education include:

  • Well-educated teachers, preferably with a bachelor’s degree and specialized training in early childhood education;
  • Low child-teacher ratios in classes, with no more than 20 children;
  • A research-based curriculum aligned to K-12 standards; 
  • Engaged families that are involved in the program; and 
  • A focus on the whole child and family. Pre-K programs should include children’s health needs, social services, information about nutrition, and access to breakfast and lunch.
     

References:

1 Barnett, W. Steven, Megan E. Carolan, Jen Fitzgerald and James H. Squires. “The State of Preschool 2012.” National Institute for Early Education Research (2012). 
2 HighScope. “Perry Preschool Study.” (2005). 
3 Grunewald, Rob. “Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return.” Fedgazette. (2003). 
4 Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. "Chicago Longitudinal Study Newsletter." (2002)
5 Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. "Chicago Longitudinal Study Newsletter." (2011).
6 Barnett, W. Steven, Megan E. Carolan, Jen Fitzgerald and James H. Squires. “The State of Preschool 2012.” National Institute for Early Education Research (2012). 

Investment in High-Quality Prekindergarten Programs Pays Off