When state lawmakers return to Raleigh later this month for the 2022 short session, look for renewed debate regarding the state’s ongoing failure to comply with court orders in the landmark Leandro lawsuit that directed it to better fund North Carolina’s public education system.
One important aspect of those orders involves the state’s commitment to providing quality early childhood education and recently, a new report prepared by experts from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University raises concerns about how the pandemic has negatively impacted the youngest learners.
The NIEER report notes that a significant and negative ripple effect of COVID-19 has been large enrollment losses in state-funded preschool programs — a development that is wiping out a decade of progress.
Not surprisingly, the NIEER researchers find that the greatest negative impacts have been on low-income and minority preschoolers and their families. As the report points out:
Even after the nation recovers from the pandemic, most children will lack access to publicly-funded preschool programs, and access to adequately funded programs that meet basic quality standards will remain even less common. Without major changes in public policies, there is no prospect for access to high-quality preschool to meaningfully improve in most of the nation any time soon.
This week we take a closer by-the-numbers look at pre-K access, based on research from the new State of Preschool Yearbook.
1,358,247 – Nationwide, total state pre-K enrollment, all ages
Nearly 300,000 – The national enrollment falloff in state-funded preschool programs nationwide in 2020-2021, the first school year to be fully impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic
254 million – The total national drop in state spending for pre-K in 2020-21
440 million – The amount the federal government provided in COVID-19 relief funds to support pre-K programs
$5,867 – National average of state funding per child, 2020-2021 (this amount has not improved appreciably in two decades)
$7,816 – State spending in North Carolina per child (including TANF and CARES funds) in 2020-2021
23,718 – The number of North Carolina children enrolled in preschool during the 2020-2021 school year
-7,341 – Falloff in pre-K enrollment in North Carolina compared to the prior year
25 – Percentage of the state’s 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-K in North Carolina in 2019-2020
19 – The percentage of North Carolina 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-K in 2020-2021
47 – The percentage of South Carolina 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-K in 2019-2020
35 – The percentage of South Carolina 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-K in 2020-2021
54 – The percentage of low-income U.S. preschoolers who do not attend any early childhood education program (Source: 2019 Community Population Survey)
27 – North Carolina’s rank among states in preschool access
12 – South Carolina’s rank among states in preschool access
53,965 – North Carolina’s enrollment gap (the number all low-income 3- & 4-year-olds currently not served by preschool in the state)
558 – Cost in millions to fully fund preschool for North Carolina’s low-income 3- & 4-year-olds.
4 – The number of states that have committed to universal preschool for 4-year-olds (Georgia, Maine, New York, and California)
The learn more and see how individual states have fared visit the State of Preschool Yearbook.