Ohio

Eye on Education

Report Finds Steep Decline in Enrollment and Spending in Ohio Preschool

Ken Colwell / Flickr

A child graduates from preschool.

A decade ago, more than twice as many Ohio children were enrolled in the state’s preschool program than now.

According to a recent report by the National Institute for Early Education Research, in 2011-2012 total state enrollment for preschool was 9,379. The state only paid for 5,700 of those students; the rest were paid for by parents, local dollars or federal funds.

Compare that to the 2001-2002 school year when 23,599 Ohio children were enrolled in the state’s preschool program.

Although the situation isn’t unique to Ohio, the state did see the most drastic drop in early childhood education enrollment in the nation over the last decade.

According to NIEER, Ohio’s decline in the number of preschoolers in state funded programs is the result of state budget cuts over the last few years.

From a statement released by the group:

 “Actions taken by state leaders that caused this slide were short-sighted and difficult to reverse, though the state’s work on this grant as well as a proposed budget which increases pre-K funding are steps in the right direction for recovery,” said NIEER Director Steve Barnett.

“Even though the nation is emerging from the Great Recession, it is clear that the nation’s youngest learners are still bearing the brunt of the budget cuts,” Barnett said. Reductions were widespread with 27 of 40 states with pre-K programs reporting funding per child declined in 2011-2012.

Not only has the number of preschoolers in the state declined, but according to NIEER the state is also spending significantly less per pupil on early childhood education. In 2011-2012, the state spent $3,980 per pupil. That’s more than a thousand dollars less per pupil than a decade earlier.

“If it’s glorified babysitting we’re not getting there,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told StateImpact Ohio when he was in Cleveland recently. He and President Obama have been pushing for a “kindergarten for all” program as part of the federal budget.

“If we can invest, invest heavily across the country and make sure we level the playing field before our babies enter kindergarten, that’s maybe one of the biggest gifts we can leave the country,” Duncan said.

The various iterations of Ohio’s state budget also include additional funding for early childhood education. In the budget currently being considered by the Ohio Senate, an extra $18.5 million would be spent on early childhood special education students in 2013-2014, plus a one percent increase the following year.

According to analysis of the House version of the budget bill, lawmakers also included additional funding for early childhood education programs:

[The bill] creates the Ready to Learn Program to fund early childhood education services for 2,200 preschool-aged children whose family income is no more than 200% of the
federal poverty guidelines, with at least three eligible children funded in each
county.

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton says early childhood education is one of the areas the department plans to focus on in the future.

“It’s one of the things we’ve been talking about,” Charlton says. “Especially with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee kids need to start coming to school prepared and it they’re not prepared we need to immediately get them on track.”

Charlton says the state did receive $70 million from an Early Learning Challenge Grant as part of the federal Race to the Top competitive program. The focus of those funds was to improve early childhood programs in the state, which is why Charlton says any additional funding that might go to preschool programs would be used to expand them.

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