In most states, funds for Pre-School programs are discretionary and separate from K through 12 funds, which makes them easier to cut when revenues are down. That’s not happening on a large scale, yet, but the signs are not good. That’s the gist of the annual State of Pre-School report from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Director Steve Barnett says nine states have reduced Pre-School funding and as the economy continues to sag, other states are expected to do the same.
“It’s letting qualified personnel go. It’s cutting back on the infrastructure that supports the quality. It’s cutting back on accountability, and sometimes it’s simply saying ‘sorry we can’t have as many children go to pre-school this year as the year before.”
Barnett says what’s happening in the Texas legislature is fairly typical of what’s happening all over the country. State lawmakers are debating dueling proposals. One would reduce funds for Pre-School, the other would increase them, and Barnett says that’s what needs to happen.
“Texas meets only four of our ten benchmarks for quality standards. The only state in the country that doesn’t limit class size and teacher-child ratio. That needs to change, and there are people who are prepared to change it, but it’s a tough decision given the current economic downturn.”
Barnett says quality Pre-school programs improve a child’s chances of succeeding in school and in life. They also reduce school failures, dropout rates, even drug abuse and crime, and state lawmakers shouldn’t even be thinking about cutting their funds.
“But in the current financial climate it’s going to take courage on the part of elected officials in Texas to make sure that the program improves in quality and becomes a better investment for the taxpayers, rather than saving a few dollars now that will cost the taxpayers far more in the future.”
Barnett’s organization — the National Institute for Early Education Research — is calling on Congress to double the rate of growth in state-level Pre-K, raise quality standards and match state funding with up to 2500 dollars for every additional child enrolled in programs that meet basic quality standards.
Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News