Leaders In Arkansas Have Decisions to Make About Expanding Pre-K Access

A new national report released today ranks Arkansas 22nd in the nation for preschool enrollment for 4-year-olds and 6th for 3-year-olds. 

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) today released its annual State of Preschool report, which provides an in-depth look at state-funded education for 3- and 4-year-olds nationally and in each state with a focus on enrollment, spending, and 10 policies that support quality education. 

Overall, access to early childhood education in Arkansas has improved over time, and we have a strong state-funded Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) pre-k program that serves low-income families with 3-and 4-year-olds. But not every child who needs it has access to early childhood options, let alone ones of high quality. 

The ABC pre-k program has been flat-funded for over a decade, and while it badly needs a funding increase, expanding the ABC pre-k program must be done in tandem with other policies. For example, we should ensure that the per-pupil funding amount remains adequate so that programs can meet quality standards, and that classroom educators are supported when seeking additional education and that they receive the same compensation as their K-12 counterparts.   

It’s time for Arkansas lawmakers to decide if and how they are going to support access to high-quality pre-k, and that decision (or indecision) could impact thousands of Arkansas families. Below are some of the findings from the 2023 State of Preschool Yearbook found in the 2022-2023 school year: 

  • Arkansas served 32% of 4-year-olds and 18% of 3-year-olds in state-funded preschool, for a total combined enrollment of 19,248 (an increase of 151 from the prior year). 
  • State spending totaled $114 million and an additional $45.4 million in federal recovery funds supported the program. This was an increase of $12,635,372 (9%), adjusted for inflation, since last year. With federal recovery funds having dried up, the program could face further financial hardship without more state investment. 
  • State spending per child (including TANF and federal recovery funds) equaled $8,281 in 2022-2023, up $596 from 2021-2022, adjusted for inflation. 
  • Arkansas met 8 of 10 research-based quality standard benchmarks for minimum quality recommended by NIEER, just as we have for the last two years.  

There are opportunities on the horizon for lawmakers to support this critical program for children. We have seen a steady increase in the recognition of the critical nature of early childhood education overall, both nationwide and here in Arkansas. We hope that this recognition translates into real action and investment so that we can ensure that the early childhood workforce is supported and make it possible for every child in Arkansas to have access to high-quality pre-k programs.  

Arkansas’s state profile can be found on the NIEER website.