Alabama Ranks High in Pre-K

State ranks low for access, close to national average for funding

Washington, DC –Alabama has maintained its commitment to pre-K even as many states are faltering in their efforts to deliver high-quality preschool education to children most in need, says a landmark national report capping 10 years of research.

The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook shows Alabama has made strides in delivering a state-funded preschool program that achieves all ten of NIEER’s benchmarks for quality but only serves six percent of the state’s 4-year-olds. Alabama ranks 33rd in the nation for program access for 4-year-olds. The state spends $4,544 per child, ranking 16th in the nation and just above the national per-child figure of $4,151.

“For the second year in a row, nationally we’re seeing declines in real spending and per-child spending that strip resources from pre-K classrooms, many of which are already funded at levels below what it takes to deliver high-quality programs,” said Steve Barnett, director of the nonpartisan National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University that has surveyed state preschool programs on a number of measures since 2001-2002.

“Alabama has been able to increase enrollment from one percent of 4-year-olds in 2002 to six percent today but more needs to be done to expand access to the many children who need it,” he said. Barnett contrasted Alabama, which has a high-quality program but serves a low percentage of children with neighboring Florida, which serves 76 percent of 4-year-olds but provides a program that achieves only three of NIEER’s ten benchmarks for quality. He said that as the state emerges from the recession, it should be in a good position to build on the solid foundation it has established. He also pointed out that neighboring Mississippi has yet to fund a state pre-K initiative.

“Alabama has one of the best Pre-K programs in the nation, giving our students a firm foundation for success as they move into the K-12 system,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “For the sixth straight year, Alabama’s Pre-K program has met all 10 of NIEER’s quality standards. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and our success is a testament to the dedication of everyone involved. The most valuable benefit is that children are more prepared than ever to explore a world of learning. Other states are noticing the momentum we have in Alabama’s Pre-K program, and I am excited by today’s announcement.”

The 2011 State Preschool Yearbook shows total state funding for the nation’s pre-K programs decreased by nearly $60 million from the previous year to the 2010-2011 school year. In the past 10 years, real spending on state pre-K has declined by about 15 percent, or more than $700 per child.

“A decline of this magnitude should serve as a wake-up call for parents and policy leaders about how well we are preparing today’s preschoolers to succeed in school and later find good jobs in a competitive market,” Barnett said.

The Yearbook findings, which include NIEER’s data over the past 10 years and recommendations for policymakers, are being released today at 10 a.m. at Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C. U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will join Barnett at today’s event.

Despite a decade of progress in which many states began or improved pre-K programs, state investments in high-quality pre-K are now slipping. In fact, many children who need access to high-quality pre-K programs still cannot attend.

Twenty-eight percent of all 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds were served by state pre-K programs in the 2010-2011 school year, raising total enrollment to more than 1.3 million. But some states have opted to expand enrollment rather than maintain quality, resulting in greater access but lower standards. “If ignored, states run the risk of substituting inexpensive child care for preschool education,” Barnett said.

“States need to plan for future growth in pre-K just as they would for major projects, such as infrastructure,” said Barnett, “and avoid viewing pre-K as a year-to-year funding decision.” He praised the federal $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge that is providing grants to nine states for improving quality, but said more needs to be done. President Obama has called on Congress to increase the federal commitment to states for early childhood education.

State pre-K generally has enjoyed bipartisan support during its expansion over the past decade. An overwhelming body of research shows that high-quality pre-K prepares children to succeed in school, enroll in college or career training, and helps more students ultimately get better jobs that can help the nation’s economy. This year’s report highlights nationwide trends in pre-K programs over past 10 years.

The National Institute for Early Education Research ( ), a unit of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research.

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