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Reason Foundation

Recession Stalls State-Funded Pre-kindergarten

Lisa Snell
April 8, 2009, 12:22pm

The New York Times reports that the recession is slowing state-level investments in state-funded free preschool in the public schools.

One of the most drastic expansions of public education in recent American history unfolded quietly in this decade, as dozens of states added free pre-kindergarten classes to their traditional kindergarten to high school offerings....

From 2002 to 2008, spending on pre-kindergarten by states nearly doubled, to $4.6 billion from $2.4 billion, enabling states to increase enrollment to 1.1 million preschoolers from about 700,000.

But given the economic decline, nine states — Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina — have already announced cuts to state-run pre-kindergarten programs.

On the other hand, the federal government is expanding their investment in early education.

Congress has significantly raised federal financing for preschool education. Mr. Obama promised during the campaign to make large new investments in early childhood education, and in the economic stimulus package, Congress appropriated more than $4 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start programs and for grants to states to support child care for low-income families.

For those who are skeptical that universal preschool and state-run preschool programs, provided by the public schools, are the next silver bullet for education reform this is a marginal but positive turn of events.

The federal grants that support low-income families are usually offerred as voucher-like subsidies that allow low-income families to choose between a variety of public, private, and nonprofit community providers. The increased support for Head Start supports a disadvantaged population and is less likely to take away market share from community-based preschool providers.

In other words, preschool expansion at the federal level, while not a silver bullet, is less likely to destroy the current mixed market for preschool in the United States and replace it with a monopoly public schol provider.

The bad news is that when President Obama gets around to it, he plans to offer states billions in additional federal money to incentivize funding at the state level on state-run public school preschool programs.

Reason.tv on universal preschool here.

Reason on the effectiveness of universal preschool and early education here and here.


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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