Volume 5, No. 5
New Pre-K Coalition Seeks Federal Action
Top education groups – including the National School Boards Association – have joined together to advocate for a strong early childhood component in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
A partnership of NSBA, the American Association of School Administrators, National Association of Elementary School Principals, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of State Boards of Education, American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, the Pre-K Coalition says the pending renewal of ESEA is the right time to bolster the federal government’s involvement in pre-k programming.
"This coalition is a unique opportunity to come together to highlight the importance of early learning to Congress, recommend federal policies that reflect the needs on the ground, and to build upon innovative state and local initiatives," said Chrisanne Gayl, Pre-K Coalition director.
ESEA renewal can "update our nation’s primary education law to take full advantage of the power of high quality pre-kindergarten education," the coalition says in Framing the Future: Addressing Pre-K in ESEA, a new statement on the law’s future.
Since ESEA was last reauthorized by Congress 10 years ago, enrollment in state pre-k programs has grown substantially by more than 70 percent. Currently, 40 states allocate $5.4 billion for these programs.
"Early education is an essential part of our educational system. There is no doubt that a high-quality pre-kindergarten education can make a critical difference in a child’s achievement," said Anne Bryant, NSBA executive director.
"It is important that our national education law reflect this by including policy that supports state and local investments in this area."
About two-thirds of children in public pre-k programs attend in public school settings, and public schools also account for 16 percent of Head Start and Early Head Start grantees.
"The increasing involvement of schools in early childhood helps not only prepare children for learning but also lays the foundation for broader reform," the coalition says.
Despite such trends, emerging data show that some states are reducing funds or considering cuts in their pre-k budgets due to massive state shortfalls.
While states have made a strong commitment to invest in pre-k, the coalition said, "Recent fiscal conditions threaten to derail some of the progress made in states."
To help address this trend, the coalition looks toward ESEA, which includes Title I plus accountability provisions approved in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act. While some schools spend Title I money on pre-k, coalition members say others are reluctant to allocate funds for this purpose due to mandated setasides for transportation, supplemental services and other requirements.
Given these trends, the coalition says Congress should "reframe" ESEA to expand policies and practices to include younger children and early childhood interventions, including investments in access, quality, workforce preparation and data collection.
Such efforts also could focus on P-3 alignment, in which schools develop coordinated policies and standards for the years from pre-k through grade 3.
Adding a stronger pre-k focus to ESEA is appropriate given current trends in education policy, advocates say. They note that there is momentum to include a strong early learning component in the nation's school reform agenda as evidenced by the recent inclusion of early childhood services in the upcoming 2011 Race to the Top competition.
When they approved more funding for Race to the Top, an Obama administration education priority, lawmakers carved out some of the new dollars for early learning. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in late May formally outlined the initiative, through which the department will award $500 million to states for what it terms "bold and comprehensive" plans to improve the quality of early learning programs.
Among other priorities, states could use the funds to increase the number and percent of low-income and disadvantaged children in high-quality early learning programs and to design and implement an integrated system of quality programs.
The coalition’s work also comes as the National Institute of Early Education Research detailed the level of pre-k cuts across states in its new 2010 State Preschool Yearbook. NIEER says per-child spending declined by $114 to $4,028 last year.
Despite the decline in funding, pre-k services remain in strong demand. Enrollment in state-funded programs increased by 26,996 children in 2010 as 1.4 million children attended programs. (For details on the new NIEER yearbook data, see story on right.)
For more information about the new organization, contact: Chrisanne Gayl, Director, Pre-K Coalition, (703) 838-6729, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Enrollment in pre-k programs grew slightly in 2010, despite budget pressures that reduced spending on these initiatives, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) says.
NIEER’s The State of Preschool 2010 provided a stark reminder that the Great Recession is taking a toll on many pre-k programs. Total spending declined, and per-child funding would have dropped back to 2002 levels if not for the federal economic stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"In the 2009-2010 school year the effects of the recession became fully apparent despite federal government aid to the states for education," NIEER said.
Overall, state pre-k programs reached 26 percent of 4-year-olds, with a modest 27,000 increase in enrollment for 2010.
However, many states struggled to provide adequate support for initiatives to increase program quality.
"Many states already failed to provide enough funding to ensure programs could meet minimum quality standards, so this is a serious problem," NIEER said. "Rather than raising quality, states are struggling not to lose what they have."
Of the 40 states with pre-k, only four – Alabama, Alaska, North Carolina and Rhode Island – met all 10 of NIEER’s quality standards. Louisiana’s program for state-approved, privately run preschools also met the benchmarks, the institute said.
The benchmarks include early learning standards; teachers with bachelor’s degrees; teacher in-service requirements; class size; staff/child ratio; monitoring; and health screenings.
States were most likely to meet the requirement on early learning standards and least likely to meet a requirement that assistant teachers possess at least a Child Development Associate credential.
Before 2010, states had made significant strides in raising quality. However, NIEER said "little progress" was made on this front across the states last year.
"While standards alone do not guarantee quality, preschool programs without high standards are unlikely to uniformly provide all children with a good education," the study said.
States meeting nine of the 10 quality benchmarks included Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Washington. New Jersey’s Abbott-funded school districts and Louisiana’s school-based LA4 program also achieved nine of the standards.
On enrollment issues, Oklahoma served 70.7 percent of its 4-year-olds, followed by Florida, whose program reached 69.9 percent. Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and New York all served more than half of eligible 4-year-olds.
States serving more than 40 percent of eligible 4-year-olds included Iowa, Maine, Maryland and Texas. For more information on the report, visit the web site at www.nieer.org.
Study Shows Gains For Illinois Children
Participants in Illinois’ pre-k programs are making gains in language and social skills while showing fewer problem behaviors, new research shows.
The study from the Erikson Institute and SRI International for the Illinois State Board of Education assessed nearly 700 children from programs located in areas other than Chicago. The Chicago Public Schools is conducting its own evaluation of early childhood programs.
Children from low-income and high-risk groups made significant gains that will better prepare them for school, researchers said. Aside from academic gains, these children achieved gains in attention and persistence in tasks.
"The findings from this study clearly demonstrate that, when we invest in quality early childhood programs, our children benefit socially as well as academically," said Samuel J. Meisels, Erikson Institute president.
Despite progress in language skills, however, participating children did not show progress in mathematics, researchers said.
Students in the study attended programs funded by Preschool for All, created in 2006, and a Prekindergarten Program for children at risk of failure.
Children were assessed in fall 2009 at the start of their pre-k year and again in fall 2010 when they began kindergarten at age 5.
Pre-K Primer is published by the Center for Public Education (www.centerforpubliceducation.org), an initiative of the National School Boards Association. The Center for Public Education is located at 1680 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. We gratefully acknowledge The Pew Charitable Trusts for its support of our work with pre-k. The views expressed here are those of the Center for Public Education and not necessarily those of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pre-K Primer is written and edited by Chuck Dervarics, an education writer and researcher based in Alexandria, Virginia. Contact Pre-K Primer at email@example.com.