WASHINGTON – Five states fall below quality standards for state-funded preschool programs,despite a national spending increase of $1 billion over the past year to $4.6 billion,according to a report released Wednesday.
The failing states are Arizona,California,Florida,Ohio and Texas.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said his priority is investing more than $5 billion in federal and state funding for states that have fallen behind.
“When our children hit kindergarten and don't know the front of the book from the back and haven't been read to and don't know how to interact with peers,that is very,very tough on a kindergarten teacher,and children are very far behind from the start,” he said.
Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research Steve Barnett said preschool enrollment has increased by more than 108,000 children over the past two years,bringing the number of children aged 4 and under enrolled in state-funded preschool programs to 1.1 million. Average spending per child is $4,061.
“When it comes to quality education like that,some states offer little more than babysitting and sometimes they are in states right next door,” he said.
For example,North Carolina spent more than $5,000 per child in 2008. South Carolina spent $1,719 per child in 2008. North Carolina and Alabama were the only two states to meet all 10 of the study's benchmarks.
They include learning standards,teachers with college degrees and specialized training,20 or fewer children per class,health screenings,meals and program evaluations.
“I encourage everyone to try to distinguish between spending on things that we would like to have,versus investing for the future,” Barnett said. “We know,for example,if we cut back in crucial education expenses,we are going to be spending more in prisons further down the road.”
Texas satisfied only four of the 10 study benchmarks. The state did not limit class size,adhere to a staff-to-child ratio or require that children be given a meal each day. Texas ranks high in enrollment,45 percent of 4-year-olds,which is higher than the national average of 24 percent.
Duncan said he was confident that states would work well with the Department of Education to get the most out of funding but said that due to the declining economy,the department will encourage states to spend more.
Funding for preschool programs is easier to cut than other educational programs,the report states.
“These are very tough economic times,but as the president said,we are not going to balance our budget on the backs of our young children,” Duncan said. “We will use the bully pulpit,and we will also have unprecedented discretionary dollars,and we're going to look to reward states in the race to the top who are doing the right thing.”
No amount of money can improve early education if it does not start at home with parents,he said.
“There is no inventive program that can turn off the TV at home or that will open up books and read to our children,” he said. “There is no government policy that can ensure that our children get to school on time every morning. These are things only a parent can do and we must support our parents – we must educate them.”