New Jersey Ranks As One Of Top 10 On State Pre-K

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NEW BRUNSWICK – New Jersey chalked up one of the top 10 spots for state preschool education according to the annual survey of state-funded preschool programs released today.

The State of Preschool 2009 showed that  New Jersey ranked 16th in pre-K on percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled and 3rd for 3-year-olds, ranked near the top on quality standards, and took first place funding per child, making New Jersey one of the nation’s top 10 states for preschool education.

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“In addition, rigorous evaluations demonstrate that New Jersey’s pre-K program works,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University and report author.  “New Jersey is clearly a leader in serving 3-year-olds, along with Vermont and Illinois.”

Barnett warned that preschool-age children across the country are feeling the impact of the recession as states cut back on early education programs, according to the report that ranks all states on enrollment in state-funded preschool programs, the amount states spent per child, and how many of NIEER’s 10 quality benchmarks a state met.

“We are seeing a pause in the rapid increase in state preschool programs that we have seen in the last several years,” said Barnett.  “In some states enrollment has been cut back to the lowest levels in many years.  Other states have cut funding and quality.

“The immediate future of pre-K seems much more perilous than past trends might suggest,” Barnett said.  “State budgets will more fully bear the brunt of the recession in 2010 and 2011.”  Looking ahead, pre-K cuts are proposed for next year in 11 states including Arizona, Illinois, Florida, and New York – Arizona has proposed cutting the program entirely.   More cuts may be coming as state legislators cope with budget shortfalls.

Nationally, the report showed that the average amount states spent per child, when adjusted for inflation, declined from $4,179 to $4,143 in 2009, ending an upward trend.  Real spending per child declined in 24 of 38 states with programs.

Total enrollment and spending increased, but not in every state.  In nine states the percentage of children enrolled actually declined, and 12 states provide no state pre-K for its children.  Other key findings showed modest growth in some areas and vast discrepancies between states:

  • Enrollment nationally increased by more than 81,000.  More than 1.2 million children attended state-funded preschool education, 1 million at age 4.
  • Total funding for state pre-K rose to more than $5 billion.  A state funding increase of $446 million, about half the increase of the previous year.
  • Twenty-three of 38 states with state-funded preschool failed to fully meet NIEER benchmarks for teacher qualifications and 26 failed to meet the benchmark for assistant teacher qualifications.
  • Programs in six states met fewer than half the quality standards benchmarks.
  • Oklahoma remained the only state where almost every child had the opportunity to attend a quality preschool education at age 4.
  • Oklahoma was rated as the leader of the top 10 states in the country followed by Arkansas, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Louisiana and Tennessee. The top 10 ranking is based on enrollment, quality standards, funding adequacy, and evidence of program effectiveness.

“With more families facing economic hardship, publicly supported preschool is more important than ever,” Barnett said.

He cited new research published in the journal Child Development showing that low family income has disproportionately more negative effects on preschool-age children than on older children and adolescents. Those effects include higher school dropout rates, lower income as adults, and greater adult health problems.

“We need to get the recession babies on a progression path so they don’t carry the scars for a lifetime,” Barnett said.

He called on the federal government to place greater emphasis on providing aid to states for educationally effective pre-K programs.

“As pure economic stimulus it is hard to beat pre-K programs,” Barnett said. “Pre-K is a high-return investment in our children’s future that will help pay for the deficits we run now.  In the meantime it generates jobs in local communities, with virtually none of the money spent on imported goods or services.

“The alternative of cheap child care with low standards may reach more families, but it is bad policy, doing little to improve child development or the quality of our future workforce.”


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