Today marks the release of the National Institute for Early Education Research’s (NIEER) 16th annual State of Preschool report. The NIEER State of Preschool 2018 yearbook is the only national report on state-funded preschool programs, tracking enrollment, spending, and policies to support quality since 2002. The report provides a comprehensive overview of the state preschool landscape across the country, and also includes state-by-state breakdowns of funding, enrollment and quality metrics. Overall, the picture presented in today’s report – which describes the 2017-2018 school year – is one of stasis. Enrollment in state preschool programs across the country was virtually flat – increasing by half a percent for three year-olds (to 5.7%) and less than one percent for four year-olds (to 33%). State average funding per child showed a small decline, when adjusted for inflation, to $5,172 – although local and Federal supplements to state investments pushed the “all sources” total to $5,940 (an inflation adjusted increase of $21 per child from the previous year). The report also noted that an important source of funds for state preschool programs – the federal Preschool Development Grant program – that contributed almost $250 million in funding to 18 state preschool programs across the country is due to expire in 2019.
The section on California describes both the state preschool programs (California State Preschool Program, CSPP) and our unique Transitional Kindergarten program (TK). The report calls out California among its “States on the Move”, citing the growth of TK enrollment to almost 100,000 students, and the significant increase in per child funding as a result of last year’s budget (more than $1,000 per child). The combined enrollment in TK and CSPP means that “more than 15% of all children in state-funded preschool nationwide are in California”. However, the report is less positive about the quality of these state funded programs. CSPP meets six of the ten suggested quality benchmarks for the program but TK meets only two (providing curriculum supports and requiring that lead teachers hold a BA degree). The leading programs in the country – Alabama, Michigan and Rhode Island – meet all ten benchmarks. Given the substantial additional funding for early childhood programs in Governor Newsom’s January Budget Proposal, and the raft of early care, health and education bills proposed by the legislature, it seems likely that next year’s report will continue to highlight California’s efforts to improve its state preschool programs.