Arkansas Ranks as One of Top 10 in State Pre-K
Arkansas chalked up one of the top 10 spots for state preschool education, according to the annual survey of state-funded preschool programs released earlier this month.
“We are pleased that Arkansas has been recognized for its early education programs. We have worked hard here in Arkansas to ensure that as many young learners as possible have access to high quality pre-school programs,” said Tonya Russell, director of the DHS Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education. “Research has shown that investing in quality early childhood education will reduce remediation, improve high school graduation rates, decrease government costs to both public assistance and prison systems, and improve adult productivity. Arkansas is fortunate to have the support of the Governor and the Legislature.”
The State of Preschool 2009 showed that Arkansas increased its enrollment, jumping its ranking to 8th place, met 9 of 10 quality standards benchmarks, and ranked 10th on per child funding. “In addition, rigorous evaluations demonstrate that Arkansas’s pre-K program works,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University and report author.
However, Barnett warned that preschool-age children across the country are feeling the impact of the recession as states cut back on early education programs, according to the report that ranks all states on enrollment in state-funded preschool programs, the amount states spent per child, and how many of NIEER’s 10 quality benchmarks a state met.
“We are seeing a pause in the rapid increase in state preschool programs that we have seen in the last several years,” said Barnett. “In some states enrollment has been cut back to the lowest levels in many years. Other states have cut funding and quality.
Nationally, the report showed that the average amount states spent per child, when adjusted for inflation, declined from $4,179 to $4,143 in 2009, ending an upward trend. Real spending per child declined in 24 of 38 states with programs.
Total enrollment and spending increased, but not in every state. In nine states enrollment actually declined and 12 states provide no state pre-K for its children. Other key findings showed modest growth in some areas and vast discrepancies between states:
• Enrollment nationally increased by more than 81,000. More than 1.2 million children attended state-funded preschool education, 1 million at age 4.
• Total funding for state pre-K rose to more than $5 billion. A state funding increase of $446 million, about half the increase of the previous year.
• Oklahoma remained the only state where almost every child had the opportunity to attend a quality preschool education at age 4. The other top 10 states were Arkansas, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Louisiana, and Tennessee.
“With more families facing economic hardship, publicly supported preschool is more important than ever,” Barnett said.
He cited new research published in the journal Child Development showing that low family income has disproportionately more negative effects on preschool-age children than on older children and adolescents. Those effects include higher school dropout rates, lower income as adults, and greater adult health problems.
He called on the federal government to place greater emphasis on providing aid to states for educationally effective pre-K programs.
“As pure economic stimulus it is hard to beat pre-K programs,” Barnett said. “Pre-K is a high-return investment in our children’s future that will help pay for the deficits we run now. In the meantime it generates jobs in local communities, with virtually none of the money spent on imported goods or services.
“The alternative of cheap child care with low standards may reach more families, but it is bad policy, doing little to improve child development or the quality of our future workforce.”