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October 22, 2014

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Nevada lags on preschool spending, enrollment, report finds

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Paul Takahashi

Spanish Teacher Ileana Nelson teaches a Spanish lesson to 17 preschool children at the Henderson International School on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. The private school in Green Valley started offering Spanish classes to preschoolers three years ago so students could video-conference with its sister school in Mexico.

Nevada continues to have one of the lowest preschool spending and enrollment levels nationally, according to a Rutgers University report released this week.

The National Institute for Early Education Research, a nonpartisan research organization at the New Jersey university, has tracked student enrollment levels and state spending on preschool programs since 2002. The group's "2013 State Preschool Yearbook" looked at spending and enrollment levels from the 2012-13 school year.

Just 3 percent of Nevada 4-year-olds — 1,272 children — attended preschool that year, according to the report. The Silver State ranked 36th in student enrollment among 41 states with pre-kindergarten programs.

Nationally, 28 percent of 4-year-olds — 1.1 million children — attended preschool that year. Enrollment levels ranged from 94 percent in Washington, D.C., to 1 percent in Minnesota and Rhode Island.

Ten states — Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming — do not offer any state-funded preschool programs.

Although Nevada has one of the lowest preschool enrollment levels nationally, the state has improved since the Rutgers institute started tracking state enrollment levels. Nevada gained 951 students since the 2001-02 school year, an increase of 2 percentage points.

Nevada also spends less than the national average when it comes to state-funded preschool programs, according to the report.

During the 2012-13 school year, Silver State spent $2,397 per student, which ranked 33rd among the 41 states with preschool programs. Nationally, states spent an average of $4,026 per student on preschool.

Nevada spent $3.3 million on preschool programs during the 2012-13 school year, which is about $52,000 less than the previous year. The Silver State’s per-pupil spending on preschool has declined in the past decade, from a high of $5,266 per student in 2003 down to $2,397 in 2013 (figures adjusted for inflation).

National Institute for Early Education Research Director Steven Barnett commended Nevada lawmakers for allotting $50 million to provide pre-kindergarten classes to English-language learner students this school year. In Clark County, that additional funding meant non-English-speaking students at 14 “Zoom” schools were able to attend state-funded preschool for free.

However, Barnett said these efforts fall short. His group recommended that Nevada allocate at least $4,864 per student on preschool, which is more than double what Nevada spends currently.

“Nevadans have good reason to be concerned about their children’s future based on these figures,” Barnett said in a statement. “Recently increased funding to support additional pre-K education for English-language learners represents a first-step toward expanding voluntary access to higher quality pre-K, but far too many children from low- and moderate-income families remain unserved, and a financial commitment to quality is lacking.”

Research shows that children who attend preschool enter kindergarten better prepared, but researchers disagree whether those gains are sustained in later years. Despite mixed findings, President Barack Obama and many educators are pushing "Preschool for All," a decade-long, $76 billion federal plan to expand early childhood education to most low-income four-year-olds across the country.

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