Annual pre-K report underlines need for more funding


 

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s annual report, total pre-K enrollment in Arkansas followed a national trend in 2013, declining slightly. The state ranks 14th for 4-year-old enrollment, reaching 33 percent of those eligible.* Last year the state ranked 11th in this category. Arkansas also serves 14 percent of 3-year-olds, which ranks 5thnationally.

What’s troubling is the state’s Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) pre-K program has not seen a dime of a funding increase in seven years. Once inflation is taken into account, funding has actually declined. Even still, the state ranks 12th in the amount spent per pre-K student, down from 10th in last year’s report.

The state meets 9 of NIEER’s 10 quality standards benchmarks, unchanged from the previous year. These quality standards include measures like class size, student-to-teacher ratios, and whether certain types of screenings are available. The only one Arkansas fails to meet is the “Teacher degree” standard, meaning there is a teacher with a bachelor’s degree per every 3 classrooms.

An evaluation of the ABC program conducted by NIEER, released in 2013, found modest but meaningful long-term effects for children who participated.

“Over the last decade, Arkansas has worked to quietly but consistently improve access to their pre-K program,” said Barnett. “State officials need to expand enrollment and ensure there continue to be adequate resources to provide a quality program.”

These statistics show how far Arkansas has come, but they also show the need for more resources. We cannot continue to provide high-quality pre-K to our state’s children if lawmakers fail to allocate the money required to do so.

*NIEER estimates do not include enrollment in Head Start or home visiting programs, just classroom-based programs.