DC leads nation in early education investment; Md. and Va. trail

WASHINGTON — D.C. continues to lead the nation when it comes to investing in public preschool and in how much it spends on each child. The 2017 analysis of public preschool in the U.S. has been released. It shows once again, that D.C. is on top.

“D.C. has led the nation in enrollment and in funding per kid since at least 2010, due to legislation in 2008 and follow-up legislation in 2010,” said Dr. Steve Barnett, senior co-director and founder of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

The latest study shows that in the 2016-2017 school year, D.C. enrolled 88-percent of 4-year-olds and 66 percent of 3-year-olds in preschool. D.C. spent $16,996 on each child in the 2016-2017 school year. D.C. has offered pre-K since the 1960s.

But the report shows both Maryland and Virginia are both investing less in pre-K and enrolling fewer children.

During the same time period, Maryland enrolled 37 percent of 4-year-olds, which is still above the national average of around 35 percent. Maryland enrolled almost five percent of 3-year-olds. The state spent $3,458 on each child in the 2016-2017 school year.

Virginia enrolled about 18 percent of 4-year-olds, which was a small drop from the previous school year. The state spent $3,845 on each child in the 2016-2017 school year. Virginia does not offer public pre-K for 3-year-olds.

“Our report highlights which states invest best in their young children and which leave too many children behind,” Barnett said. He has been doing the annual state-by-state report on public pre-K since 2002, which tracks preschool quality, access and resources. In the last 15 years, he said many states have progressed, some have fallen behind and only a handful have emerged as leaders.

Barnett said high-quality education sets the foundation for success in school and in life. “Kids who get a great start before they enter kindergarten are much better equipped to succeed.”

But on the other hand, Barnett said for those children in poverty they start off developmentally about 18-months behind their peers. “It’s very difficult to climb back out of that hole.”

“While children may only be 25 percent of our population, they’re 100 percent of our future,” said Sara Neumann, the communications director for Save the Children’s U.S. programs. She said early education is one of the most important issues in the U.S. for her organization.

Neumann said the annual report shows how many children in states and in D.C. are enrolled in public pre-K. It shows how much states and the District are investing in early education for children. “It’s important because it really shows us where states are making progress or where states are failing our nation’s youngest citizens,” she said.

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