One and a half million American children were enrolled in state-funded preschool programs in the 2015–16 school year, a new high, the annual State of Preschool Yearbook found.
The District of Columbia was again the top-ranked jurisdiction for enrollment of 3- and 4-year-olds in state-funded preschool programs and for total spending on those programs, according to the report from the National Institute for Early Education Research, which is affiliated with Rutgers University.
D.C. in 2008 passed a landmark law guaranteeing universal preschool to students in the city
. Most attend programs run out of district and charter schools, where rigorous standards mean the youngest learners are taught by trained educators and programs are funded at high levels.
The city enrolled 81 percent of 4-year-olds and 70 percent of 3-year-olds last year, according to the report. Among states, Florida enrolled the highest percentage of 4-year-olds, at 76 percent, and Vermont the highest percentage of 3-year-olds, at 44 percent.
Nationally, 32 percent of 4-year-olds and 5 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool programs. About 8 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in Head Start, the federally funded preschool program, and about 3 percent in special education programs, according to the report.
State spending per child also rose about 5 percent to just shy of $5,000, back to pre-recession levels.
The report recommends that the federal government expand the Preschool Development Grants program, which it says is currently helping in 18 states, and sponsor a new study of quality in public and private preschool classrooms, with results for each state.
“It is critically important that parents and taxpayers both know how their state’s pre-K policies stack up against what is required to provide a good early education,” W. Steven Barnett, director of the national institute, said in a release. “Research indicates most states need to do more to ensure high quality for every child.”
Seven states still do not offer any state-funded preschool programs: Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
This year Guam became the first U.S. territory to offer a state-funded preschool program, where 72 4-year-olds are educated in four classrooms.