An annual survey of state preschool programs — The State of Preschool — shows Missouri rnaks 36th nationally on enrollment and 32nd on funding per child.
The study stacks up 38 states that have state-funded preschool programs and says Missouri serves just 4 percent of 4-year-olds.
The report’s author, Steven Barnett, is the director fo the National Insutitute for Early Eduation Research at Rutgers.
“We are seeing a pause in the rapid increase in state preschool progrmas that we have seen in the last several years,” he says. “In some states, enrollment has been cut back to the lowest levels in many years. Other states have cut funding and quality.” He adds that 11 states are looking at making even deeper cuts as legislators cope with budget shortfalls.
Missouri early education officials agree.
Kathy Thornburg is the Assistant Commissioner for the Missouri Division of Early and Extended Learning for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
She says the report shows Missouri pre-K meets eight of 10 quality benchmarks, but access remains limited, and it comes down to funding. She says Oklahoma, the state that ranks highest, is seeing its investment pay off. “…positive data.”
Thornburg says Pre-K in Missouri is funded soley by riverboat casino entrance fees, and the legislature should consider including it in the foundation formula to boost programs in the future. She points to recent proposals in the state budget process that cuts back on Parents as Teachers, a program that was started by Sen. Bond when he was governor, and a program that is now nationwide and international.
She says those kinds of cutbacks are going to affect the education futures of Missouri’s children.
According to the report, in nine states, including Missouri, the percentage of children enrolled declined.
It says Oklahoma remained the only state where almost every child had the opportunity to attend a quality preschool education at age 4.
Thornburg says the word “quality” is key. She says Oklahoma has made it a priority to provide quality early education, and it’s paying off as the state sees fewer students repeat grades and suffer setbacks down the road.