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State of the States: Preschool funding keeps growing

Total state funding for preschool programs rose by $767 million, to a total of nearly $7 billion
32 states and the District of Columbia raised funding levels of preschool programs
32 states and the District of Columbia raised funding levels of preschool programs.

In 2015-16, states increased pre-K funding for the fourth consecutive year, according to a recent report from the Education Commission of the States.

Total state funding for preschool programs rose by $767 million, to a total of nearly $7 billion—a 12 percent increase over the prior year’s spending levels.

In the 2015-16 budget year, 32 states and the District of Columbia raised funding levels of preschool programs. Support stemmed from both sides of the political aisle—22 of the states had Republican governors and 10 had Democratic governors.

“For the past four years we’ve seen steady increases every year that have been widespread,” says Emily Parker, Education Commission of the States’ policy analyst and lead author of the report. “States are making pre-K a priority, and it will likely continue.”

In 2015-16, only five states (Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming) did not provide fund pre-K—compared to 11 states just three years ago. Nine states decreased funding, and three stayed the same.

Pennsylvania is currently at a budget impasse, and is not included in final calculations for total pre-K spending.

The trend of increasing pre-K program funding is echoed nationally with the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the report notes. The ESSA increases funding for early childhood education through Title I, Title II and Preschool Development Grants, the latter of which will allocate $226 million to expand high-quality preschool for low-income families.

“While in the past money has never been prohibited from being used for early childhood education, this is the first time a law says that these funds can explicitly be used for these purposes,” Parker says.

Nationally, parents say that only 46 percent of students are enrolled in preschool programs, the report states. Research on the impact of preschool is limited and offers mixed results. However, most studies indicate that high-quality preschool programs promise impressive returns on investment by improving education outcomes, health and economic prosperity for students.