To be successful in today’s world, every student must graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills needed for success in college, the workforce and life. Experts agree instruction to put students on track for college- and career-readiness can’t wait to begin until kindergarten. This session focused on policies and program solutions to ensure successful and expanded access to preschool education.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill yesterday that will provide funding for universal prekindergarten in the state. In accordance with the law, three- and four-year-olds will have access to at least ten hours per week of publicly funded pre-k at either public or private schools, including schools outside of their district.

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When it comes to offering 4-year-olds the chance to take part in early-childhood education, few states can boast a program as far-reaching as Wisconsin’s. And the state’s 4K program keeps on growing, according to new Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data.

The 2011-12 school year was a difficult one for pre-K advocates as state funding fell and after a decade of growth, pre-K enrollment stalled.

CSG Director of Education Policy Pam Goins outlines the top five issues in education policy for 2014, including high quality early childhood education and funding, college- and career-readiness, K-12 assessment and accountability systems, the growing use of technology and digital learning, and degree attainment and college completion. 

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.

The 2011-2012 school year was the worst in a decade for progress in access to high-quality pre-K for America’s children, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). The organization reached that conclusion in its annual State of Preschool report. NIEER’s 2012 Yearbook, released Monday, concludes state funding for pre-K decreased by over half a billion dollars in 2011-2012, the largest one-year drop ever. The organization blames in part the lingering effects of the recession on state budgets.

President Obama made a public push for greatly expanded access to high-quality early education programs Thursday, touting the benefits of quality pre-K programs for 4-year-olds. “This is not babysitting. This is teaching,” Obama said in a speech to educators and parents in Decatur. The President expounded on a plan for ramping up early education which he included in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

It is the growing consensus among education leaders that vital learning happens before age 5. Until the recent economic downturn, state funding for early childhood education had been increasing steadily. Between 2001 and 2012, funding more than doubled to $5.1 billion annually. Maryland’s funding level increased nearly 600 percent, from $19.9 million in 2005 to $113.9 million in 2012. Alabama’s pre-K funding more than quintupled during that period. Since the start of the Great Recession, some have backtracked on support for early education. According to data from the National Institute for Early Education Research, Missouri’s funding for pre-K has dwindled from $14.7 million in 2005 to $11.8 million in 2012. Arizona’s funding, which was once more than $12.5 million, has been eliminated, taking preschool services away from more than 4,300 children.

Research shows that children who attend pre-K programs are more successful in later grades. However, state funding and policies regarding pre-k programs vary widely.