Much attention has been paid to learning loss during the pandemic in elementary and middle school grades, but what about our youngest learners? A new report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University examines the barriers pre- and post-pandemic that have left many 3- and 4-year-olds unserved by prekindergarten.
The research finds the COVID-19 pandemic has made access to high-quality preschool more difficult. Funding has been stagnant in many states, and pandemic-related fears have prompted parents to choose not to enroll their children in Pre-K.
Education experts say that Pre-K is not only important for children to learn how to socialize and interact with others at an early age, but it also lays a foundation for their future success.
Quality, accessible Pre-K is also crucial to for mothers to return to work. An estimated two million women were forced to leave  the workforce during the pandemic, many due to child care issues.
Moving forward, the NIEER report recommends to state lawmakers:
Business as usual is not good enough — too many children are missing out on the opportunity to attend high-quality preschool, which research shows can set children on a trajectory to better academic and lifetime outcomes.
There is an opportunity now to increase funding for high-quality preschool. There is bipartisan support for preschool and President Biden has made universal preschool access a priority of his administration. There is no time like the present to accelerate the trajectory of increasing access to high-quality, full-day preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. It will not be easy, but the goal of universal access to high quality preschool for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, and even all 3- and 4-year-olds, is achievable. The longer we wait to start, the more children will miss out on this opportunity — one that they can never get back.”
Here’s a closer by-the-numbers look at Pre-K access, based on research from the new State of Preschool Yearbook .
31,059 — Total number of North Carolina’s 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-kindergarten, 2019-2020
25% — Percent of at-risk 4-year-olds enrolled in Pre-K in North Carolina
26 — North Carolina’s rank among states in preschool access
51% — Percent of children who are low-income in North Carolina
$5,499 — National average of state funding per child, 2019-2020
$5,355 — North Carolina average of state spending per child (including TANF) in 2019-2020, down $174 from the previous year
$10,122 — Total Pre-K spending per child in North Carolina, including federal, state, and local funding sources
$10,147 — Minimum per child cost of full-day, high-quality preschool in North Carolina
$787,304 — Additional dollars needed to meet quality standards for existing state preschool seats in North Carolina
86,228 — Seat gap, the number of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds who are not being served by high-quality, full-day preschool in North Carolina
$1,789,877,106 — Projected cost to provide universal high-quality, full-day preschool to North Carolina’s 3-and 4-year-olds
4 — Number of states (NJ, NC, OK, WV), plus the District of Columbia that spend enough to pay for high-quality full-day (6 hours per day, 180 days per year) Pre-K
3.5 million — Estimated number of 3- and 4-year-olds in the U.S. who still do not attend preschool in a classroom
40% — Percent of children in low- and middle-income families who remain unserved
$30 billion — Estimated cost to expand access to high-quality full-day preschool to all low-income 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide
$62 billion — Amount needed to reach the 5 million children nationwide who are currently unserved
$1.3 billion — Amount North Carolina will receive from the American Rescue Plan to help the ailing child care industry: $503 million for the child development block grant, which can be used to help cover tuition and $805 million for a “child care stabilization fund.”
Read the full report here .