In the News
Early Education Issues Return to Spotlight
Amid a recession that's squeezing state budgets and pushing more families into poverty, teams of officials from 39 states gathered recently near Washington, D.C., to explore ways to better meet the educational and health needs of young children.
The meeting, sponsored by the National Governors Association, came as the U.S. House of Representatives debated and approved a bill that aims to pump $8 billion over eight years into states to improve the quality of early-childhood education from birth to age 5.
No national data are currently available to assess the impact of the battered economy on various state early-learning programs in fiscal 2010. But the worst recession in decades has certainly taken a toll on state budgets. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported in July that the states faced revenue shortfalls of $143 billion collectively as they worked to wrap up work on their fiscal 2010 budgets. New holes were expected, and they have already popped up.
To be sure, state spending on early education has risen in recent years. A recent study by the National Institute for Early Education Research, based at Rutgers University in East Rutherford, N.J., found that state spending on pre-K programs grew from $2.4 billion in the 2001-02 school year to $4.6 billion in 2007-08.
Meanwhile, an NCSL analysis estimated total state spending on programs of early learning and child care at $12.4 billion for fiscal 2009, up $651 million from the prior year.
Although many advocates for early-childhood programs are worried, especially with states still forecasting deep budget deficits, analysts suggest that, in general, state support for early learning so far appears to have been largely spared compared to the cuts elsewhere in state budgets.