In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama urged Congress to help states expand pre-kindergarten programs to include all 4-year-olds.
On Wednesday, a nonpartisan think tank issued a report that appeared to bolster his concerns.
Federal support for early education has remained relatively stagnant since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington-based policy institute.
Moreover, states are shouldering much of the responsibility for improving both access to and quality of early education programs, according to the group.
It describes the past five years as a period of “subprime learning” for children from birth to age eight. Increasing student poverty levels and dips in federal aid meant many children did not have access to the Pre-K programs that would prepare them for the rest of their education, the report concluded.
Student achievement gaps based on family income widened, as a result.
“Low income families are the ones that are really struggling and that are not being served, in terms of their access to high quality child care, full day kindergarten, and certainly the ability to have publicly funded preschool available to their kids,” said Lisa Guernsey, director of New America’s Early Education Initiative.
Legislation is before Congress that would create a cost-sharing arrangement between states and the federal government for a Pre-K program for low-income children.
“Policy that enables a partnership between federal, state and local is the kind of policy that cuts across political ideology; it’s the kind of policy that takes into account that kids operate in an environment that’s affected at different levels,” said Rhian Allvin, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.