The District ranked among the best in the nation for providing access to high-quality preschool seats last year, as the city spent more cash per student than any state but New Jersey, according to a report released Monday.
Maryland managed to stand its ground during the recession, but Virginia slashed funding and limited access to prekindergarten in "what ought to be a wake-up call to parents," Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, told The Washington Examiner.
|Amount of state funding per pupil and the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in state preschool programs:|
|Virginia||$4,535/6%||$4,007 /11%||$4,305 /15%||$3,808/16%|
|Nation||$4,866 /14%||$4,073 /20%||$4,296 /27%||$4,151/28%|
|*Percentages from 2010 and 2011 use data from the census, whereas the previous numbers are based on population estimates, making the figures not perfectly comparable.|
According to "The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook," the District spent $11,665 per prekindergarten student last school year -- just $4 behind New Jersey. In 2010, the District served 98 percent of the city's 4-year-olds and was praised by the institute for providing rigorous classroom experiences.
Maryland, meanwhile, spent about $4,414 per student and enrolled just 37 percent of 4-year-olds, marking a small, steady increase from years past. Virginia spent $3,808 per student in 2011, the smallest amount in the report's 10-year history and an 11.5 percent decrease from 2010. The commonwealth had the resources to enroll just 16 percent of 4-year-olds.
"Virginia has lost traction and needs to change course. If I'm a parent of a preschooler, I'm going to look to live in D.C.," Barnett said. "It's not quite 'man bites dog,' but it's a different story where D.C. truly is the leader."
D.C. Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley said the report shows early-childhood education is "on the upswing" across the city.
"District parents are confident in the improvements that have been made," Mahaley said.
Nationwide, state spending on preschool hasn't kept pace as enrollment has more than doubled over the past 10 years. In 2010-2011, 26 of the 39 states with public prekindergarten programs cut funding, for an overall drop of $60 million, in the second consecutive year of decline.
Lisa Guernsey, director of the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative, said the recession hit preschool programs harder than K-12 because preschool is less established as state policy.
"Pre-K wasn't built into a stable funding stream in many states," Guernsey said. "But if you have only a fraction of children attending a good preschool, there will be many children in kindergarten classes who have not been exposed to reading time, social skills, or who can listen to instruction, and that can have cascading effects through the years."