Arkansas holds steady in national preschool report rankings

Arkansas holds steady in national preschool report rankings

According to a new national report, funding for pre-K in Arkansas has remained constant, despite a trend of decreasing funding in other states. The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) releases a State of Preschool report every year. Arkansas usually does well in these rankings given the success of the state’s Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program. Arkansas ranks 11th in access for 4 year-olds and 5th in access for 3 year-olds. Arkansas ranks 10th in the country when it comes to spending per child.

The report, titled The State of Preschool 2012, noted that per-child enrolled funding appears to have increased in Arkansas. However, that is the result of reduced enrollment rather than additional funding. ABC has not received an increase in funding since 2008. Arkansas should be proud of our high ranking and the high quality of our pre-K program but the lack of a funding increase over the last few years poses a threat to our ability to maintain that level of quality. In contrast with cuts in other states, Arkansas’s rankings in spending have improved just by maintaining the state’s level of effort. Arkansas declined in ranking for access for 4-year olds since last year’s report.

Arkansas continues to provide high-quality programs, achieving nine of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks for quality standards, putting it in the top 10 states for quality. Quality standards benchmarks include: comprehensive early learning standards; teacher qualifications and development; and class size and staff ratios. The standards also address health screenings, meals, and monitoring.

Early childhood education has a critically important role in preparing our youngest citizens for school and ultimately productive lives in the global economy. When the achievement gap for low-income students remains static despite overall gains in our student’s achievement level, strategies, such as pre-K, which have documented successs at getting students an even start in school must be protected and expanded for all low-income children.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the trend toward less funding for pre-K is discouraging.

“The news here isn’t as good, isn’t as positive as we would like it to be,” Duncan said. “If ever there was report that makes the case for the need for President Obama’s preschool-for-all proposal, this report is it.”

President Obama proposed a federal-state partnership in his State of the Union address that would provide public preschool for 4-year-old students whose families made below twice the poverty level.