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State of Preschool, State of Emergency

GRAPHIC: Colorado ranks 20th in the in nation in access of 4-year-olds to preschool and 10th in the nation for access of 3-year-olds. Graphic courtesy NIEER.
GRAPHIC: Colorado ranks 20th in the in nation in access of 4-year-olds to preschool and 10th in the nation for access of 3-year-olds. Graphic courtesy NIEER.
April 29, 2013

DENVER - A dismal picture of the state of preschool in the United States is painted by a new report on the subject. The National Institute for Early Education Research 2012 Yearbook found, on average, that there's less access to preschool programs, and funding is down. Just twelve states increased funding last year, and for the first time in a decade, enrollment and quality dropped, even though the population of preschool-aged children is going up.

According to report author Dr. Steven Barnett, director of the NIEER, preschools in the United States are in a state of emergency.

"Funding cuts this year were severe, unprecedented," he asserted. "States have to prioritize high-quality pre-K to meet the needs of their youngest learners."

One reason for the decline is the lingering effect of the Great Recession.

Colorado, meanwhile, is partially bucking the trend. While spending per pupil is at the lowest level in a decade, access is holding steady. The state ranks 10th in the nation for the number of three-year-olds in preschool, and 20th for four-year-olds.

Gladys Wilson, director of Qualistar Colorado, noted that the report looks at numbers for the 2011-2012 school year, and doesn't take into account recent grants the Colorado Preschool Program has received, or proposals in this year's legislature.

"I do think there's a very strong commitment from the leadership now to try to reinstate that, and bring us back and build," she declared.

And Barnett sees another promise of improvement: the President's budget proposal to increase preschool funding and enrollment would match state funds at a nine-to-one level for the first two years.

"I don't think there's much question that some kind of federal support for state-funded pre-K could be very important for turning around what's happening at the state level and changing their priorities," he said.

But he warned that talk is one thing: it's another matter altogether to get the measures passed and the funds allocated.

The full report is at NIEER.org.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO