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Report: Illinois ranks high for early childhood education access for 3-year-olds, quality standards are high

April 10, 2012

Online Staff Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Illinois ranks 15th in the nation for serving 4-year-olds with state-funded pre-K in 2011, rebounding from 22nd in the nation in 2010, says a landmark national report capping 10 years of research.

The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook shows over the past 10 years, Illinois moved up from serving 22 percent of 4-year-olds in 2002 to 29 percent in 2011.

During the same period, the state moved from serving 8 percent of 3-year-olds in 2002 to 20 percent in 2011, making Illinois first in the nation for serving this age group.

Spending per child has declined by nearly $1,000 over the last decade — from $4,394 per child in 2002 to $3,449 per child in 2011. Illinois now spends more than $700 less per child than the national per child amount of $4,151. Program standards for pre-K in Illinois are high, as the state achieves 9 out 10 benchmarks for quality set by the nonpartisan National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University.

For the second year in a row, nationally we’re seeing declines in real spending and per-child spending that strip resources from pre-K classrooms, many of which are already funded at levels below what it takes to deliver high-quality programs,” said Steve Barnett, director of NIEER, which has surveyed state preschool programs on a number of measures since 2001-2002.

Illinois has a long way to go if it is to realize the goal of providing state-funded pre-K to all children,” Barnett said. “It’s a cruel irony that when the Preschool for All law passed, 2012 was when universal access was projected to be achieved. Yet, the state served only served 29 percent of 4-year-olds in 2011.”

Barnett added that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) proposal to restore some funds to state pre-K is a step in the right direction for a program that was on track to become a national model.

The 2011 State Preschool Yearbook shows total state funding for the nation’s pre-K programs decreased by nearly $60 million from the previous year to the 2010-2011 school year. In the past 10 years, real spending on state pre-K has declined by about 15 percent, or more than $700 per child.

A decline of this magnitude should serve as a wake-up call for parents and policy leaders about how well we are preparing today’s preschoolers to succeed in school and later find good jobs in a competitive market,” Barnett said.

The Yearbook findings, which include NIEER’s data over the past 10 years and recommendations for policymakers, were released April 10 at Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C. U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Barnett at the event.

Despite a decade of progress in which many states began or improved pre-K programs, state investments in high-quality pre-K are now slipping. In fact, many children who need access to high-quality pre-K programs still cannot attend.

Twenty-eight percent of all 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds were served by state pre-K programs in the 2010-2011 school year, raising total enrollment to more than 1.3 million. But some states have opted to expand enrollment rather than maintain quality, resulting in greater access but lower standards.

If ignored, states run the risk of substituting inexpensive child care for preschool education,” Barnett said.

States need to plan for future growth in pre-K just as they would for major projects, such as infrastructure,” Barnett added, “and avoid viewing pre-K as a year-to-year funding decision.”

Barnett praised the federal $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge that is providing grants to nine states for improving quality, but said more needs to be done. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to increase the federal commitment to states for early childhood education.

State pre-K generally has enjoyed bipartisan support during its expansion over the past decade. An overwhelming body of research shows that high-quality pre-K prepares children to succeed in school, enroll in college or career training, and helps more students ultimately get better jobs that can help the nation’s economy. This year’s report highlights nationwide trends in pre-K programs over past 10 years.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (www.nieer.org), a unit of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information-based on research.

Posted April 10, 2012

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