An annual study shows Arkansas dropped from a ranking of 13 to 22 among states in the nation devoting resources to pre-kindergarten education. The National Institute for Early Education Research found that spending increased for pre-K nationwide in 2015 compared to the previous year, but Arkansas saw about a $1,255 decrease in spending per child despite having about 3,400 more kids enrolled in a pre-K program.
Steve Barnett, director of the NIEER, says the per-child funding decrease hasn’t always been the case.
“Historically, Arkansas has been a leader [in offering pre-K]. Arkansas has had greater access for four-year olds and especially three-year olds. But what’s happened since 2008, really, is that the program hasn’t had substantial real increase in funding,” he says.
According to the NIEER, last year the state spent $4,372 for every child enrolled in a pre-K program. That was down from a high of $6,165 in 2006.
Barnett says a five-year longitudinal study gauged the development of literacy, math and language skills in Arkansas children who enrolled pre-K programs (funded by the Arkansas Better Chance program) beginning in 2005 and showed positive outcomes. He says those gains could be eroded with decreases in per-child funding.
“There were long-term lasting impacts, perhaps not as large as it could be if the state invested more in the program, but it’s working, or, it was working,” he says.
In the Arkansas legislature’s recently concluded fiscal session, an attempt to increase state funding for pre-K by $10 million, from $111 million to $121 million, failed in committee.