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Report: Arizona Lags Behind in Early Childhood Education

PHOTO: A national report on early childhood education funding and enrollment figures by state ranks Arizona near the bottom. Photo credit: Washington State Department of Early Education.
PHOTO: A national report on early childhood education funding and enrollment figures by state ranks Arizona near the bottom. Photo credit: Washington State Department of Early Education.
June 4, 2014

PHOENIX - Arizona is near the bottom of states for enrollment in -- and funding of -- early childhood education, according to the latest "State of Preschool" report for 2013 from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Professor Steven Barnett, who directs NIEER, said Arizona ranks 38th in enrollment and 40th in funding pre-kindergarten programs, out of 40 states and the District of Columbia that have early-education programs. The Grand Canyon State's situation seems to be getting worse, he said.

"Arizona actually has very low funding and meets relatively few of the benchmarks for quality standards," Barnett said. "It's actually fallen from where it was in the prior year."

Barnett said Arizona spends slightly more than $2,000 per student and should be spending about $4,500 per student to achieve higher standards. The study showed that the District of Columbia, which ranks first in the nation for early education enrollment, spends nearly $17,000 per student.

Barnett said research shows that investing in early childhood education helps ensure that more children graduate from high school and go on to attend college and get good jobs - milestones that benefit the whole state.

"Reduce your crime rate. Increase your graduation rate," he said. "Attract employers, because you're going to have a workforce that knows how to work together, is more productive on the job, better educated."

According to the report, Florida, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wisconsin round out the top five states with the highest early childhood education enrollment numbers.

The report is online at nieer.org.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - AZ