US graphAn annual report, The State of Preschool 2013; State Preschool Yearbook, released by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) was released last week. The report includes national trends, data tables, and state-by-state information on the current status of state-funded prekindergarten programs, including standards for quality, access, and changes to programs in the last year. The report covers 40 states that currently have state-funded preschool programs as well as ten states and the U.S. territories which do not provide state-funded prekindergarten.

Research tells us that quality early learning programs improve children’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional readiness for entrance into formal schooling. In a study that evaluated school readiness in Oklahoma, a state with a universal prekindergarten program, the results showed significant academic gains across all incomes and racial groups. State-funded preschool programs provide children, regardless of household income, access to quality early childhood education programs.

Kentucky’s preschool program serves 4-year-olds from low-income families, those in foster care, those who are homeless, as well as 3- and 4-year-olds with disabilities. Nationally, 28 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded preschool program in the 2012-2013 school year, compared to 29 percent of Kentucky 4-year-olds. One way to increase enrollment is to increase access to preschool in Kentucky. Diverse delivery models in which schools and child care providers collaborate can help increase access by providing children with preschool in their child care setting. State-funded preschool gives Kentucky’s most vulnerable children an opportunity to be prepared for kindergarten and beyond.

Kentucky’s state profile in the report included information about the Commonwealth’s continuous efforts to measure and improve the quality of state-funded preschool including evaluations, technical assistance, and supports that ensure the use of best practices. While the Commonwealth experienced slight drops annually in the number of 4-year-olds enrolled in state-funded preschool since 2011, the General Assembly recently approved an increase in funding in the two-year state budget. This means more children will have the opportunity to enroll in public preschool and be kindergarten-ready.

Kentucky scored a 9 out of 10 on the report’s Quality Standards Checklist, which considers 10 benchmarks that help to determine the quality of prekindergarten programs. The only benchmark missed was the national standard to require an associate’s degree for child development assistants. Kentucky only requires a high school diploma.

Overall, Kentucky fares somewhere in the middle on a national level for our state-funded prekindergarten program when considering access, quality standards, and resources. However, Kentucky has opportunities to improve its rankings; we are one of five states to receive the 2013 Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge award, and the 2016 budget includes an increase in funding to increase enrollment and make preschool more accessible for Kentucky’s children. It’s important for us to continue to work to ensure all kids get quality early learning opportunities.