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A New Way to Track Pre-K—Hourly: Part 2

May 10, 2013
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In a blog post from earlier this week I examined the issues of funding streams and dosage. We currently have no way to track a state-funded pre-K center’s level of funding or the different ways it is funded. We also have no reliable way of measuring how some pre-K programs supervise children for much longer than others because we rely on a vague binary measurement of “half-day” versus “full-day”. In this post I will explain how we can fix these problems.

An Ocean of Unknowns

  • By
  • Laura Bornfreund,
  • New America Foundation
May 15, 2013

What is the best way to use data to measure teacher impact on student learning? States and school districts are attempting to navigate these uncharted waters. As of 2012, 20 states and DC require evidence of student learning to play a role in evaluating teacher performance. As a result, better information on student learning is in high demand, and no grade level is immune. Historically, most states have required standardized testing only in grades three through eight.

A New Way to Track Pre-K—Hourly: Part 1

May 7, 2013
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In today’s blog post, I will examine some basic problems with current data collection processes in pre-K, kindergarten and across the PreK-12 landscape. Look for Part 2 later this week, when I’ll propose hourly tracking -- an outside-the-box approach to solving some of these issues. 

At National Journal: Assessment Lessons from Early Childhood

May 3, 2013

This week, the National Journal’s expert blog asked writers to respond to a series of questions about assessment. I zoomed in on several lessons from early childhood assessments, PreK-3rd grade, that educators can and should integrate into 3rd – 12th grade standardized assessment practices.

Last Year the “Worst in a Decade” for High-Quality Pre-K, Annual Report Finds

April 29, 2013

State pre-K funding shrunk by over half a billion dollars from the 2010-11 to the 2011-12 school year. That was the largest one-year decrease in the last 10 years, leading the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) to declare it the "worst year in a decade” for high-quality pre-K access across the United States.

At National Journal: The Tobacco Tax is a Place to Start

April 24, 2013

Last week, the National Journal Education Experts blog asked if funding pre-K with cigarette taxes was a good idea.

I argue that seeking out new and creative funding streams has merit and that the tobacco tax is worth talking about. But I also caution that such a tax should not and cannot realistically be the long-term solution:

Early Learning in the President’s 2014 Budget Request

April 10, 2013

Updated 4/10/2013 5:00 PM to reflect newly published information about the state matching portion of the Preschool for All plan.

President Obama released his fiscal year 2014 budget request earlier today, which would include $75.0 billion* over 10 years for his “Preschool for All” proposal. On top of this, the president proposes other boosts for early learning, including funding increases for Head Start, Child Care and Development Block Grants, IDEA special education programs, and the home visiting program. He also proposes budget increases to several other programs under the Department of Education that could support early learning.

Kids at Risk of Repeating a Grade? Less So in N.J.

March 29, 2013

Last week, the National Institute for Early Education Research released new data on the impact of preschool from a study of New Jersey’s state-funded pre-K program. By following children’s progress for more than six years, researchers determined that even in fifth grade, kids who had attended pre-K were still doing significantly better than their peers on a variety of academic measures. Those academic results alone make a strong case for better investments in pre-K, but let’s consider one finding that deserves special attention in debates about the cost of pre-K: The children who attended the publicly funded pre-K program were also less likely to repeat a grade.

The study showed that even by fifth grade, the chance of retention (the jargonny word for being held back or repeating a grade) was reduced by 40 percent if children had attended the state’s Abbott pre-K program.

Early Learning Legislation in the 113th Congress

March 20, 2013

Building on the momentum of President Obama’s call to expand preschool access, the first months of the 113th Congress have seen the reintroduction of a number of bills addressing early education.

Doing the Math: The Cost of Publicly Funded ‘Universal’ Pre-K

March 19, 2013

The post originally appeared on our sister blog Early Ed Watch.

During the media frenzy that followed President Obama’s unprecedented call for expanding pre-K to all four-year-olds in the United States, we estimated that the additional cost to states and the federal government, combined, to be somewhere between $10-15 billion per year. We estimate that the feds and the states currently spend about $9 billion on pre-K for four-year-olds.

We wanted to explain exactly how we came to that conclusion.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), there were approximately 4.1 million four-year olds in the U.S. as of July 2011.  But we shouldn’t assume that 100 percent of those 4.1 million children would participate. Even in states that provide pre-K to any family that wants it, such as Oklahoma and Florida, not all families choose to send their children, and currently about 75 percent are enrolled. Therefore, we predict approximately 75 percent of four-year olds would be enrolled nationally if pre-K were truly universal in all states. That means we are talking about funding pre-K for a little under 3.1 million four-year-olds around the country.

Next we determined a reasonable cost per child.  This, of course, varies by state. (Teacher pay will vary depending on supply and demand, not to mention cost-of-living in a particular area, for example.)  But we do know that the average per-pupil expenditure for children enrolled in Head Start in 2012 was $7,581 (excluding Early Head Start, which is for children under 3 and their mothers).  We also know that the Obama Administration appears to be aiming for a full-day (not a half-day) pre-K program, and that the average spending on a full day of instruction for K-12 students nationally is $12,442 per pupil, according to NIEER.  State-funded pre-K programs of decent quality cost $2,640 to $11,699, with the average at $6,408.* So we round up to $8,000.


By using this formula, we conclude that it would cost $24.6 billion per year to fund a “universal” public pre-K program for all four-year-olds. However, we estimate that states and the federal government already spend about $9.24 billion on pre-K for four-years olds.

Here’s how we got to that number, which we came to through a lot of deduction, so we want to be clear that it’s only an estimate.

States spent about $5.49 billion on state-funded pre-K programs in 2011. (Some of that includes federal funding from  TANF, according to NIEER data, so it is not purely state funding).  In 2011, The federal government spent $7 billion on Head Start (excluding Early Head Start), special-education preschool services (known as IDEA Preschool within the the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and other sources.** Add 5.49 and 7, which is 12.49. Using NIEER data, we know that 74 percent of children enrolled in these publicly funded programs are four year olds. So we multiply .74*12.49 to get to the $9.24 billion number.


So given how much is already spent on pre-K, total new costs would be closer to $15 billion.


There are many caveats to these numbers. Three and five-year olds tend to sneak into some of these numbers on the margins. There are also other forms of funding that we may not be capturing. Lastly, simply taking the full cost of programs and multiplying them by the percentage that is four-year olds is “back-of-the-envelope.” It could cost more because there are certain fixed costs that can’t be multiplied by a percentage, or it could be less because it doesn’t account for efficiencies that are only achieved at a very large scale.

Furthermore, the numbers we are using are also closer to an ideal world of full, universal, high-quality pre-K, so we think that our estimate is on the high end. Therefore we feel comfortable estimating the additional cost to be somewhere between $10-15 billion.

What do you think about our number? Too high? Too low? Let us know.

*We define a program as “high quality” when it meets at least seven of NIEER’s ten benchmarks.

** In 2011 the federal government spent $6.3 billion on Head Start (excluding Early Head Start) and $373.4 million on IDEA 619 (preschool). We round up because some IDEA part B money probably helps fund preschool IDEA programs and there are other federal structures, such as Title I, where some of the money may go to preschool but the numbers are not broken down for us.

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