The pre-K lobby enters the spin cycle

Pre-Kindergarten
We've argued that states should target scare resources at the neediest kids—but clearly the states haven't listened.
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

The National Institute for Early Education Research, which is as much an advocacy group as it is a think tank, is out with its annual yearbook on state-funded preschool programs. And its (desired) headline is that “per pupil funding” is down dramatically.

That headline shows up in several press accounts (like here and here), but it’s incredibly misleading. Let me quote the report’s executive summary:

  • Total spending by states [from 2002-2012] has risen from $3.47 billion to $5.12 billion. Adjusting for inflation, this is a real increase of $1.65 billion in current dollars or 48 percent. In allocating these increases states have tended to favor expansion of enrollment over adequate funding for quality.
  • By 2011-2012, per-child spending had fallen below $4,000, the lowest in a decade. This reflects a drop of more than $1,000, adjusting for inflation, since 2001-2002 year, and is a 23 percent decline.

In his 2009 book Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, Fordham’s Checker Finn argued that states should target scarce resources at the neediest kids, rather than spreading the money around. Clearly the states haven’t listened. They’ve boosted funding—but boosted the number of children served even more. That’s a problem, but it certainly isn’t a “cut.”

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