Earlier this week, the financial news site, 24/7 Wall St., published its rankings of states with the best and worst early education programs. Specifically focusing on 3- to 4-year-olds, the website ranked states using an index based on five different measures of early education quality: (1) annual per-child Pre-K spending; (2) percentage of fourth graders not proficient in reading; (3) percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool; (4) a poverty measure using the percentage of families receiving child care subsidies; and (5) whether or not states met 10 quality standards as found by the National Institute for Early Education Research’s publication, “The State of Early Education 2017.”
Arkansas ranked 19th in this index, with our statistics looking like this:
- Share of 3- to 4-year olds enrolled in Pre-K: 49.7% (14th highest among all 50 states)
- Total annual Pre-K spending: $105M (17th highest)
- Pre-K spending per 3- to 4-year-old: $1,420 (7th highest)
- Fourth graders proficient in reading: 32% (13th lowest)
- Child poverty rate: 27% (4th highest)
At least according to this data, it’s clear where we falter. We’re putting money into Pre-K, and we have fairly high enrollment, particularly for a rural state. Yet, over a quarter of the children who live in this state live in poverty, and only 1/3 of our fourth graders are proficient in reading. There’s no question that access to quality, affordable early education benefits families, and this is something that we lack in rural and impoverished areas. The benefits of a strong early education program particularly benefits children from low-income and minority families, yet children from middle and upper-class homes are more likely to be enrolled in Pre-K. This boils down to two issues: access and affordability. It’s up to the state to fill that gap by investing more funding, or better utilizing the funding we have, into early education programs so that all children can benefit.
You can find the full report and rankings here.