Quality Preschools Set Kids Up For Success. The Trump Administration Wants to Gut Their Funding.

“Really good preschool programs require robust budgets.”

The number of American children enrolled in publicly funded preschools is growing—but states are spending less per child than they were 15 years ago, and the Trump Administration hopes to slash federal funding aimed at getting more disadvantaged kids into preschool.

That’s a big problem, say the authors of a new Rutgers University report. Abundant research (PDF) shows clearly that preschool programs for three- and four-year-olds help children succeed academically and socially—this pertains especially to kids who are English language learners and/or come from low-income families. But these gains only apply when the preschool programs are of “high quality,” says Steven Barnett, a lead author of the report and the senior codirector of Rutgers’ National Institute for Early Education Research. “Really good preschool programs require robust budgets.”

Public preschool programs have made major progress since Rutgers began tracking them in 2002. That year, there were 13 states that didn’t offer any public preschool—now there are just 7. These days, 16 states serve more than a third of their four-year-olds, up from just three states (plus DC) in 2002. Over the same period, states have  doubled their combined preschool expenditures to $7.6 billion.

That budget growth hasn’t kept up with increased enrollment, however, which means per-child spending has actually declined:

National Institute for Early Education Research

What’s more, the state spending varies dramatically: DC spends nearly $17,000 per child, for instance, while Nebraska spends less than $2,000. And seven states, of course, spend nothing.

Per-child spending is an important figure because it correlates closely with quality, which the researchers measure with a system of 10 benchmarks—things like class size, student-teacher ratios, level of teacher training, and program oversight. The report found that only three states (Alabama, Michigan, and Rhode Island) met all 10 quality benchmarks. Eleven states met fewer than half.

The federal government plays an important role in all of this. For one, it funds Head Start, the national preschool program that serves poor families. Barnett pointed out in a recent op-ed that the program’s budget was so small this year that Head Start had to scrap plans to make the school day longer. The Trump administration has proposed cutting Head Start even further.

The federal government also administers the Preschool Development Grants Program, which last year contributed more than $230 million to state preschools—the Trump administration has proposed eliminating the program entirely. This money is especially important, Barnett points out, because it’s earmarked to increase preschool access for poor children. “That’s an incredibly important piece of this puzzle,” he says.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.