Toddle to the top
Cash-strapped states cut funding for nurseries
May 5th 2011 | NEW YORK | from the print edition
They can’t take that away from me
LILY, who is three-and-a-half, loves her nursery school in Queens. Her mother calls her “the sponge” because every day she comes home with new nuggets of knowledge. But not every child is as lucky as Lily. A new report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) shows that states’ preschool funding is declining, which means fewer children will have access to early education, which most agree is essential especially for children living in low-income households. The study looked at the 40 states which fund programmes for three- or four-year-olds. “State cuts to preschool funding transformed the recession into a depression for many young children,” says Steven Barnett, author of the NIEER report.
莉莉，一个三岁半的小女孩，爱她的位于纽约皇后区的托儿所。她妈妈 叫她“海绵宝宝”，因为每天她都带着一些新的知识回家。但并不是每个小孩都像莉莉那么幸运。一份美国国家早期教育研究所（NIEER）的新报告显示，各州的学前教育经费正在减少，这意味着更多的孩子将失去接受学前教育的机会。大多数人都同意说这极为重要，尤其是对生活在低收入家庭中的儿童。该研究对40个设立了对三到四岁儿童资金项目的州进行了调查。“州政府削减学前教育经费，对许多儿童来说，就相当于把经济衰退变成 济大萧条，”史蒂芬•巴纳特说道。他是NIEER的这份新报告的作者。
State preschool spending per child decreased by $114 to $4,028 last year. This is almost $700 less than in 2001-2002. Were it not for the additional funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it would be much less. Worryingly, the funding situation may get worse. The stimulus money helped keep many states afloat, a cushion that no longer exists. Only three states (Connecticut, Maine and Vermont) increased spending per child by more than 10%. Nine (Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Carolina) cut spending by at least 10%. Ohio, once a leader in early education, now has one of the lowest percentages of youngsters enrolled. It cut funding more than any other state.
Arne Duncan, the education secretary, understands that states are watching every penny. Tightening budgets is the new normal, he admits, “but there are smart ways to cut and they are dumb ways to cut.” Cutting early education, he reckons, is one of the dumb ones. Mr Duncan is, in fact, making early education one of his priorities, by including it in the next round of funding for Race to the Top, the big federal programme for schools.
Ten states do not provide any funding at all for preschoolers, and some appear to fund it only haphazardly. In Florida preschool programmes are available to all 4-year olds. The problem there is not quantity, but quality. Some programmes—and not just in Florida—are nothing more than glorified baby-sitting. The report encourages states to set and stick to standards so that children are prepared for kindergarten at five. But more financial woe could be on the way. Congress is considering a Republican proposal to cut Head Start, a federal preschool funding programme for poor families. Chester Finn of the Thomas Fordham Institute, an education think-tank, is no fan of universal preschool. He thinks it makes more sense to focus the limited resources available on intensive programmes for the neediest children.
Mr Duncan insists education, especially early education, is vital for America to stay competitive. An OECD report found that although the United States spends more, per child, on education than any other OECD country, it lags behind in funding the early years. Geoffrey Canada, head of the Harlem Children’s Zone, says, “we can’t afford to invest, but we can’t afford not to do it”. Mr Canada’s programme begins not in preschool, but in utero in a programme called “Baby College”.