This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Julie Mazziotta
Pennsylvania stands as one of only a few states to increase preschool funding during the 2011-12 school year, according to a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
As President Obama looks to increase pre-K funding by $75 billion over the next decade, state funding for pre-K programs dropped by over half a billion dollars nationwide, the biggest single-year drop ever, according to the report.
Pennsylvania did, however, cut 3,000 slots from its pre-K program, leading to an increase in the state’s spending per student by $115 for the remaining children, the report shows. The eliminated seats caused Pennsylvania to drop three spots in a national ranking of education access for 4-year-olds — from 25th in the country to 28th. Meanwhile, the increase in per-student spending moved Pennsylvania up one spot, to 9th in the nation, for state spending on education.
While nationally the average funding for pre-K dropped to $3,841 per student from $4,151 in 2011, Pennsylvania spent $5,474 on each child in 2012, an increase from $5,359 the year before. Of the 40 states with pre-K programs, 27 reported funding cuts in 2012.
Any cuts, whether to funding or to seats, represent a loss in quality, according to Megan Carolan, a research coordinator at NIEER.
“Even though a lot of kids are getting served, the quality is not strong,” she said.
The report also evaluated each state’s pre-K programs based on 10 benchmarks of quality. Those standards take into account required teacher degrees, maximum class sizes, and meals, among other things. In 2012, Pennsylvania’s pre-K program met just half of the benchmarks.
“The quality standards are more concerning in Pennsylvania,” Carolan said. “The state lost two benchmark standards because they eliminated site visits.”
Site visits, which allow administrators to oversee the progress of a school and increase accountability, were previously funded through an education Accountability Block Grant, until Pennsylvania issued a two-year moratorium on site visits to be re-evaluated later. The grants provided districts with financial assistance to improve student achievement.
“We’re pleased that Pennsylvania didn’t cut the quality for good, but we want those benchmarks to come back,” Carolan said.
Julie Mazziotta is an intern at the Notebook.