States have played a large role in supporting pre-K since Georgia established the first universal, state-funded pre-K program in the country in 1995, providing preschool education for 44,000 4-year-old children in that first year. By 2010, 40 states provided some form of funding for pre-K programs. In 2011, that number dropped to 39 as Arizona zeroed out its Early Childhood Block Grant pre-K program. The other states that do not fund any state pre-K programs are Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
Research from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has shown that more children are enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs than in any other publicly-funded pre-K program: 28 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S. are enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs; 11 percent in Head Start; 3 percent in other public pre-K programs; and 3 percent in special education, not including special education children who are also enrolled in state-funded pre-K or Head Start.
State funding for pre-K in 2012 averaged $3,841 per child, down from $4,284 in 2011, according to NIEER’s 2012 State of Preschool Yearbook. Per-child funding varies widely among the states that provide programs, from more than $11,000 per child in the court-ordered Abbott program in New Jersey to less than $2,000 per child in Colorado, Nebraska and South Carolina.
Most state-funded pre-K programs are designed to provide grants to community-based organizations (CBOs) in addition to, or instead of, school districts. (An example of a CBO is a non-profit organization that runs child care programs in a neighborhood, city, county, or region.) For example, Michigan’s Great Start School Readiness Program funds pre-K classrooms in many of the state’s school districts. However, it also provides grants directly to 61 community-based providers who won the funds through a competitive process. Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten program distributes all funds directly to county-level early learning coalitions, each of which distributes subgrants to providers in their area. Read more about Pre-Kindergarten and the Limitations of Pre-K Data.
Eleven state pre-K programs, such as the Virginia Preschool Initiative and Iowa’s Statewide Voluntary Prekindergarten Program, require local governments or providers to provide matching funding, which can amount to a significant portion of annual funding for those programs.
For more information on state-funded pre-K, see NIEER’s annual State of Preschool yearbooks.
State preschool spending (for chart data) is defined by NIEER as state funding for a state's pre-K program plus funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), which some states use to support state-funded pre-K programs.