“We’ve taken a giant step backward as a nation,” Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said recently in releasing the institute’s annual report on the state of preschool education in America. Located at Rutgers University in New Jersey, the institute is a national advocacy group devoted to improving the quality, access and
preschoolfunding of state-funded pre-Kindergarten programs in the U.S. In its latest report, The State of Preschool 2011, the institute notes that despite a general national increase in enrollment and public recognition of the importance of preschool education, state funding for preschool programs decreased nearly $60 million last year. Nationally, per-child spending decreased $145 from the previous year.

According to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, two-thirds of states have cut preschool funding during the economic downturn. State funding of pre-kindergarten programs has dropped nearly to the level it was at a decade ago, despite the fact that 28% of all U.S. 4-year-olds attend state-funded preschool programs. Duncan urged states to preserve preschool programs despite tight budgets. Pointing out the necessity of pre-K programs, Barnett said an estimated 30% to 40% of kindergarten students arrive for the first day of school unprepared. Without the benefit of preschool, many children enter kindergarten without the necessary reading and math readiness skills.

In its report, the National Institute for Early Education Research rated each state against 10 standards that define a high-quality preschool program, including state early learning standards, teacher educational degree and training requirements, teacher experience, class size, staff/child ratio, screening/referral/support services, meals and state monitoring.

Next time: How Ohio preschools compare

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