The Power of Pre-K

Early Learning

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With the recent release of Education Commission of the States’ annual pre-kindergarten (pre-K) funding report, we are taking a look at the impact the Obama administration has had on pre-K, recent research regarding pre-K and how state pre-K funding transcends party lines. 

Pre-K under Obama

Throughout the Obama administration, the Preschool for All Initiative prioritized access and quality to preschool across the nation. Preschool development grants have helped 18 states to expand their programs to more than 33,000 additional four-year-olds.  Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge provided states with additional incentives to increase their early learning programs and outcomes for the nation’s at-risk learners. Additionally, states have increased their pre-K funding by 47 percent in the past five years, with six states not providing state funding for pre-K. Another $2.1 billion dollars was allocated to Head Start and Early Head Start through the American Recovery and Reinvestment act, ensuring that our nation’s at-risk children have access to quality early childhood education.

Research supporting pre-K

As pre-K continues to be an issue that extends party lines, additional research supports the increase in access and quality that is visible at both the state and federal levels. Recent research by Nobel Laureate James Heckman explains that for every $1 invested in early childhood education, society saw a $13 return on investment. Additionally, a new report from Duke University proved that the gains students made in state-run pre-K lasted well through the later elementary grades. This research, in addition to several other studies, is making the case for a bipartisan effort to place the youngest learners on a strong academic trajectory.

Bipartisan issue

For the 2016-17 fiscal year, 30 states increased their state pre-K funding. Of those states, 18 now have Republican governors, while 12 have Democratic governors. In nine of the 30 states, the overall state control is divided among parties demonstrating that this issue can and does transcend party lines when prioritized.

Looking to the future

With the passage of ESSA, states will also have the opportunity to strengthen their state education plans to allow districts the flexibility to strengthen early learning programs. For example, states can allow districts to redistribute Title I funds to include early learning programs or Title II funds to support early learning professional development.  While the new administration’s early learning programs have yet to be released, both states and the federal government have made pre-K a priority in recent years. This issue continues to be one in which policymakers seem to agree, as research continues to develop in favor of the academic gains made in the pre-K years. 

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