In September of 2011, the Pew Center on the States released Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future. In this report, the Pew Center summarizes the progress that has been made in expanding pre-K services over the past decade and advocates for high-quality pre-kindergarten to be provided to all three and four-year-olds through a national pre-k-through-12 public school system.
Much of the Pew Center on the States’ analysis is based upon research from its decade-long Pre-K now campaign to increase the access and quality of publicly funded pre-k programs. This initiative ends on December 31. Based on extensive research and interviews with education experts, this report concludes that high-quality pre-k is essential because of a host of factors, including the physical, social, and emotional development that children experience before the age of five. Moreover, The Pew Center maintains that high-quality pre-k programs decrease early achievement gaps and prepare students to acquire the skills needed to later compete in the global economy.
The Pew Center’s report provides a range of measures that need to be implemented in order to more expansively integrate high-quality pre-k into public education; several examples are:
heightened and sustainable state-federal partnerships and funding;
reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act;
implementation of child development research into teacher training practices;
a realignment of Head Start policies with public education standards;
overall early elementary grade revisions, including full-day kindergarten for all children and ensuring that learning in the later grades is built upon skills acquired in the pre-k years.
While ten years of Smart Start initiatives and Pre-K now have brought pre-k programs to over a million children nationwide—26% of all four-year-olds—and total state funding for pre-k has more than doubled to $5.1 billion in the fiscal year of 2012, too few students continue to receive high-quality pre-k. The Pew Center points out that there are currently only three states and the District of Columbia that offer pre-k to all four-year-olds and six states that are in the process of implementing pre-k-for-all programs.
The progress and statistics on growth in pre-K programming that the Pew report cites may, however, now be in jeopardy. According to the Campaign for America’s Future and the National Education Association’s October 2011 report: Starving America’s Public Schools,due to budget cuts passed by state legislatures and policy mandates both at the federal and state levels, ten states have eliminated all early childhood programs for this school year and now Texas, Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, and Illinois are either making huge cuts to early childhood programs or cutting them completely. Further, in 2009-2010, states spent $30 million less on early childhood education than in the previous year.
As Michele Palermo, coordinator of early childhood initiatives at Rhode Island Department of Education points out in an interview conducted by the Pew Center: “one of the reasons that it’s easy in some states to cut back pre-k investments when times are tough is this idea that it’s just a program for some kids. And, we in the trenches, are always kind of puzzled . . . Why are we just cutting out pre-k? You wouldn’t just provide second grade to some kids but not all kids.”