Early Education in the News
Two top Indiana Democrats on the ballot this November released a plan Thursday for developing a state-funded preschool program that would be available to all Indiana children regardless of family income.
Former House Speaker John Gregg, who is running for governor, and state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz said their joint proposal would direct $150 million to a universal pre-K program that would be paid for with existing money. Funding for the program would come from reprioritizing some state spending and rededicating money budgeted for other programs that goes unspent.
When the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recently released its annual summary of state-funded pre-K programs, they found only modest gains in pre-K access, quality, and funding for three- and four-year-olds across the country. While average state spending per child enrolled in pre-K increased by $287 in 2015 to a national average of $4,489 per child, this funding level still represents a decrease from 2002-2004 levels.
This lack of state investment in pre-K is a major reason why so few three- and four-year-olds are able to access these programs. NIEER’s report found that only 29 percent of four-year-olds and five percent of three-year-olds are currently enrolled in state pre-K programs. Steve Barnett, NIEER’s Director, pointed out that if this slow rate of growth in pre-K access continues “it will be another 50 years before states can reach all low-income children at age four.”
Stagnant state funding of pre-K coupled with strong evidence of the benefits derived from pre-K programs has led an increasing number of cities across the country to generate local revenue to fund early education programs, including pre-K. A new financing toolkit created by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation and North Carolina Budget and Tax Center is making it easier for cities to do just that.
Perhaps Plato got it right. Twenty-four centuries ago the Greek philosopher declared that, “The beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of the young...”
Educators and leadership within the Cape Cod Collaborative and the Dennis-Yarmouth and Monomoy Regional School Districts couldn’t agree more. The regional school districts, with the Cape Cod Collaborative, have partnered with private preschools to improve access to quality preschool education for all three- and four-year-olds across Chatham, Dennis, Harwich, and Yarmouth.
“Access to quality, early education is critical to a child’s success,” says Jan Rotella, Cape Cod Collaborative Grant Manager. Rotella cites a multi-year study of New Jersey’s Abbott Preschool Program, which shows the significant, positive impact that preschool education programs have on a child’s academic skills in language arts and literacy, mathematics, and science.
Today, not all Cape Cod children have the opportunity to attend quality preschool programs. “Cape-wide, we have an estimated 35 percent of children entering kindergarten with no preschool experience,” says Dr. Christopher Martes, head of the Boston education advocacy group Strategies for Children. “This represents a glaring need for improved access to quality preschool programs.”
Before last week, Missouri was the only state in the nation that prohibited quality rating systems for preschools. However, Gov. Jay Nixon signed a law Wednesday that allows early childhood education centers to opt into a voluntary quality rating system.
When the Abbeville v. South Carolina case proceedings began in 1993, there were a number of grievances that plaintiff districts aired: facilities, transportation, teacher recruitment, student achievement. Nowhere on that original list was early childhood education.
But when a trial court gave its ruling in 2006, it said that areas like facilities and achievement had adequate funding structures, but called out “the State’s failure to fund early childhood intervention programs.”
In response, the General Assembly created and has given funding to the South Carolina Child Development Program since its pilot legislation in 2006. Still, some are worried that pre-K children in rural areas, including the Pee Dee, are not given great opportunities to access child care.
Dino-dances, stomach agriculture debates, and other adorable activities resounded across the city that morning, testifying to the fact that Washington, D.C. sends nearly all of its children to pre-K. Spurred by a landmark 2008 law, the District enrolls 85 percent or more of its four-year-olds (depending on who’s counting) and an even more remarkable 60-plus percent of three-year-olds. “The city has committed to providing a high-quality seat [to every pre-K child,]” said Travis Wright, who leads early learning programs for District of Columbia Public Schools. “That’s not something every child in the United States has.”
The National Institute of Early Education Research, which tracks enrollment nationally but uses a different methodology than the District, said 86 percent of Washington, D.C.’s four-year-olds and 64 percent of three-year-olds were enrolled in publicly-funded programs in 2015. By contrast, Vermont, which leads all states in NIEER’s early-education enrollment analysis, had 84 percent of four-year-olds and 26 percent of three-year-olds in programs that year.
The District’s high numbers reflect a surge over over the last decade. Just 61 percent of four-year-olds, and 28 percent of three-year-olds, were enrolled in 2004, according to NIEER. In all, more than 12,500 children out of an estimated 16,400 were enrolled in public preschool, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. An additional 1,221 children were in full-day subsidized daycare, according to the state superintendent’s office. Early childhood educators and advocates attribute the city’s high enrollment to its commitment to provide sufficient support — preschoolers are funded using the same formula that funds older students, teachers are paid on the same salary schedule as teachers in higher grades, and city leaders have refused to cut support even in lean budget years.
Mississippi, which has made early literacy an educational focal point, has good news to report on test scores for its kindergartners.
The children who started kindergarten in fall 2015 performed better on a test of early literacy compared to the previous year's kindergarten class. The children who were kindergarten students in fall 2014 were the first ones to take the state's new STAR Early Literacy Exam. The test is administered twice to kindergarten students, and is intended to give teachers an idea of what children know once they start school.
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (H.R. 5170), bipartisan legislation that would expand effective social interventions, like early learning programs.
Sponsored by Representatives Todd Young (R-IN) and John Delaney (D-MD), this legislation would allow private and philanthropic investors to enter into contracts with the government to fund programs that serve a public good while also saving the government money. The outcomes of these programs are rigorously evaluated to assess if predetermined goals are met. These goals are intended to save state and federal tax dollars by avoiding more costly interventions in the future.
“All children are born ready to learn, yet far too many children in the U.S. currently do not have access to the early learning opportunities needed to prepare them to succeed in school and life,” said Mark Shriver, president of Save the Children Action Network (SCAN). “This bill is crucial in helping pay for critical early learning programs, like pre-K – something every child deserves.”
A portion of the savings would be used to repay investors with a modest return. If the outcomes are not met, no taxpayer money is spent.
Preschool hasn't always been front and center when it comes to education spending. But Delaware is gaining ground, Gov. Jack Markell said Wednesday in visiting a Georgetown preschool center that's been helped by a sought-after federal grant.
Choosing a childcare provider for your little one is one of the hardest decisions a parent has to make. A new law signed by Governor Nixon Wednesday in Springfield will help Missouri parents be more informed in that choice.
Every parent hopes the place their little ones go while they're at work is safe, educational and fun. But there is currently no quality rating system for childcare providers in Missouri. Inf fact, it was outlawed.
Judy Dungan, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Missouri Children's Leadership Council says, "I mean, it's one of the most important decisions they're going to make, and our state, by policy, said we weren't allowed to rate the quality of those providers."
But with Governor Nixon's signature on Senate Bill 638, multiple state departments will begin building a ratings system, which will be voluntary for providers.
According to a 2016 kid count study by Idaho Voices for Children, 69 percent of young children in Idaho are not enrolled in early education programs. The survey shows 31 percent of kids ages 3 through 4 are not in any type of preschool.
Idaho STARS and the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District said kids who don't go to preschool could be at a disadvantage when entering elementary school.
"The range when they come to us in that kindergarten is from students who cannot recognize one letter to students who know all of their letters and all of their sounds and they're reading and so that gap is so wide," said Lori Craney, elementary education director for School District 25.
"They're not being prepared for elementary school," said Laura Thomas, an education consultant at Idaho STARS. "There's a huge discrepancy of children entering kindergarten or first grade."
"Just that exposure to learning, just that exposure to all that is going to be happening when kids get to school is really important in preschool," Craney said.
Although most Indiana students do attend kindergarten, students are not required by law to go to school until age seven.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count data book, a national report on child wellbeing, reports Indiana ranks 40th in the nation for preschool enrollment: parents of 60 percent of Indiana’s three and four year olds say their children are not in school. Only 10 states have fewer young children in school programs.
According to some experts, missing out on those early years is a big deal.
“Success starts early,” said Kent Mitchell of Early Learning Indiana. “You know kids who start behind stay behind.”
Early Learning Indiana is an preschool provider and advocate.
The U.S. spends a lot of money on preschool — billions of dollars each year. When invested wisely, research suggests the costs are justified by significant returns to society, including savings from crimes not committed, welfare dollars not distributed, and taxes on higher earnings.
But a new report suggests many preschool programs aren't as good as they could (or should) be — because their teachers arrived on the job poorly trained.
"There's a lot of attention to expanding access [to preschool], but there's insufficient attention to the quality of the programs," says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).
Walsh and her colleagues studied 100 training programs for aspiring preschool teachers: five associate's degree programs, 54 bachelor's programs, and 41 master's or graduate degree programs.
They found that most offerings only briefly touched on skills specific to early-childhood teaching, including how to build children's language abilities and introduce them to early mathematical concepts. Roughly 40 percent of training programs didn't specifically require a course on teaching preschool, and 20 percent didn't allow student teaching in an actual preschool.
While the soda tax battle finally ended on Monday when Mayor Jim Kenney signed the long-contested sugary drinks tax into law, local business leaders are saying more needs to be done.
They’re calling on the state to to pump an additional $90 million into funding for high-quality pre-K, the Philadelphia Business Journal reports.
Representatives from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Main Line Chamber of Commerce, the African American Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. military say the investment would bridge the STEM workforce skills gap beginning in the formative pre-K years. The money would expand pre-K access for 7,400 more children and extend the school year for 6,200 students, CBS Philly reports.
To back this position up, the leaders have cited STEM and Early Childhood — When Skills Take Root, a report released on Friday by Mission:Readiness, an education advocacy organization run by retired military leaders and Washington D.C.-based education advocacy group, ReadyNation.
Something's wrong in America's classrooms. According to new data from the Education Department, black students — from kindergarten through high school — are 3.8 times more likely to be suspended than white students. Now the really bad news. This trend begins in preschool, where black children are already 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white students. In all, 6,743 children who were enrolled in public pre-K received one or more out-of-school suspensions in the 2013-14 school year.
Glass half-full: That number's down slightly and relatively small considering the 1.4 million kids who, according to the Education Department, attended public pre-K that year. Glass half-empty: That's 6,743 kids too many, say several top child development experts.
"To be clear, preschool suspension just shouldn't be a thing for any kid," says Maryam Adamu, who until recently studied early childhood policy at the Center For American Progress. To stop preschool suspensions, Adamu argues, it's important to understand why they happen. One reason: money. "You get what you pay for. When we're underfunding programs, we're sort of setting ourselves up to fail."
The skills employers value most, some experts contend, are not learned in high school or college and can't be measured by standardized tests. The ability to problem-solve, plan, stay organized and deal with clients and co-workers — so-called "soft skills" —are best learned in preschool, when children's brains are sponges and every experience helps form the mental framework that lasts a lifetime.
"If you want to increase the average skills of your workers 20 years from now, one of the most cost-effective ways of doing that is investing in early childhood education," said Tim Bartik an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
In the latest installment of Cleveland Connects: The First 2,000 Days, an informational series on the importance of investing in the first five years of children's lives, cleveland.com looks at soft skills and the roles that parents and preschools play in developing the skills.
Many 3- and 4-year-olds still lack access to high-quality preschool education despite modest gains in enrollment, quality, and funding, according to an annual report by the nonpartisan National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. While several states made significant progress through a concerted effort to increase enrollment and funding and improve quality, progress is slow and uneven nationally and quality standards are particularly low in some of the nation’s largest states such as California, Florida and Texas. Despite the relatively good news this year, the rate of progress is so slow that it will take 150 years for the nation to reach 75 percent enrollment in state pre-K even at age 4.
In West Virginia, enrollment was 16,622, down by 212 children in 2014-2015. However, the state serves 70 percent of 4-year-olds in the state and ranks 5th in the nation in access for 4-year-olds. West Virginia also saw gains in terms of quality standards – meeting all 10 of NIEER’s minimum quality standards benchmarks with the new requirement for assistant teachers to have at least a Child Development Associate credential. Only 5 other states meet all 10. The passage of SB 146 (2016) helps move West Virginia forward in the provision of equitable services for all children, serving as a model for other states by requiring a minimum of 25 hours of weekly instruction.
“West Virginia recognizes that the state’s economic future depends on early investment in its youngest citizens,” said NIEER Director Steve Barnett. “Ensuring that every child has access to high-quality preschool can help pave the way for their success in school, on the job, and in West Virginia communities,” he said.
While Philadelphia could sweeten this narrative with the recently passed soda tax, aimed at funding pre-K, a new federal report shows that Pennsylvania's low pay for early-childhood teachers undermines its ability to deliver high-quality education at a critical developmental stage.
Nationwide in 2015, the median annual wage for preschool teachers was $28,570 - about 55 percent of what elementary teachers were paid, according to a report released this month by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. For a child-care teacher, it was even lower, around $20,320. Such low compensation leaves many early-childhood educators around the poverty line, which is $20,160 for a family of three.
The report also listed Pennsylvania preschool teachers, excluding special education, in the lowest bracket for annual median pay, earning $21,930 to $23,890. Median annual wages for child-care teachers was $19,590. The average kindergarten teacher in the state made more than double: $51,050.
Preparing Indiana’s youngest for that first day of kindergarten is something Lafayette Community Schools Superintendent Les Huddle says shouldn’t wait.
“Having that access or opportunity for every student would be a huge step forward for our entire state,” said Huddle.
Indiana Superintendent for Public Instruction Glenda Ritz agrees. This month, she called on state lawmakers to adopt a program for all students statewide by 2020.
“We have to absolutely invest in our little ones, and I want it open to all students who might want to attend a high quality pre-K program,” Ritz told reporters during a press conference.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, there are currently 57 state-funded preschool programs in 42 states.
Indiana has adopted a pilot program for lower-income preschool students and Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he’d like to expand it. A spokesperson for Pence’s re-election campaign said the governor looks forward to working with the General Assembly to do so “in a responsible manner” using state funds, philanthropic funds and possibly federal funds.
As teacher Raquel Lima leads her excited 4-year-olds in a counting song she knows she’s lucky because Clifton’s part of a special, federally-funded preschool program. That means Lima earns a salary that’s comparable to other teachers in Clifton’s public schools. Most pre-K teachers earn less. A lot less.
“I have been there. My first job out of college was at a daycare, making $6 an hour. You can’t live on that. You can’t have a family of four on that,” she said.
Federal labor statistics show a big pay gap. Nationally preschool teachers earn a median salary of $28,570 a year — that’s just 55 percent of the $51,640 earned by kindergarten teachers. While higher overall, Jersey’s median salaries show a similar gap: $35,160 for preschool teachers compared to $61,350 for kindergarten teachers. And it makes a difference, according to U.S. Education Secretary John King.
“Because of these salary differentials, you see lots of turnover in childcare facilities and preschool. If folks can’t support themselves and their families, they simply can’t afford to stay. And that means you don’t have the benefit of the experience those teachers have gained, because they’re leaving those early learning settings,” King said.