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FEBP Expansion Provides New Pre-K Data Resource, But Challenges Remain

Published:  September 19, 2012
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This post also appeared on our sister blog, Early Ed Watch.

Even as the availability of data on K-12 education programs has exploded over the past decade, the American education system suffers from an acute lack of some of the most basic information about publicly funded programs for young children. Data on funding and enrollment for these programs at the local level have not been publicly available, obscuring the public and policymakers’ basic understanding of these services. Until now.

Today, the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative and Federal Education Budget Project (FEBP) announced an expansion of the FEBP database to include pre-kindergarten data at the state and school district levels. The FEBP database is the only centralized location that makes this information available to the public, the media, and policymakers.

But the data are far from perfect. Accompanying the release of the data is a report, Counting Kids and Tracking Funds in Pre-K and Kindergarten: Falling Short at the Local Level, which details the continued shortcomings of early education data. The report finds that some states with state-funded pre-K programs do not make data available on some of the most basic information, such as how many children are enrolled in a given district. And even those that do provide such data are missing details on whether their pre-K programs are full- or half-day programs.

The data also illustrate the difficulty in providing a full picture of local pre-K access when many pre-K programs are run by community-based organizations (CBOs), such as non-profit child care centers, that are not organized along school-district lines. FEBP provides education data by school district, the common unit of measure for education at the local level, and not by city or county. This structure means that the vast majority of FEBP data can only reflect district-run state-funded pre-K programs, district-run Head Start programs and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services provided by school districts. With the exception of Florida (an exception explained in the issue brief), FEBP does not include district-level data on programs operated by CBOs unless they receive funding from local school districts or use teachers paid by the districts. This is a large omission, as many CBOs receive public funds to operate Head Start centers and state-funded pre-K programs and are a critical part of pre-K delivery in the United States.

The authors, Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative, and Alex Holt, a program associate for the Education Policy Program, also find that kindergarten, assumed to be an integral part of public schools, is plagued by a lack of information and comparable data. District-level data are unavailable on funding specifically for kindergarten or enrollment that distinguishes between half-day and full-day programs.

This lack of data carries serious consequences for equity in educational opportunities and could affect children’s academic growth. For example, if teachers and school leaders don’t know what interventions children receive before they enter kindergarten, it is difficult for them to best target their instruction to students’ needs. While FEBP’s pre-K expansion is a good start, states must invest in comprehensive data systems that allow for comparisons between districts.

Readers can head over to www.edbudgetproject.org to view pre-K data for their states and school districts. The Federal Education Budget Project has provided data on funding, demographics, and achievement for states, PreK-12 school districts, and institutions of higher education since 2007. The pre-kindergarten expansion includes funding and enrollment information for state-funded pre-K programs, Head Start programs, and federal IDEA preschool services at the state and school-district levels.

To read the full report, Counting Kids and Tracking Funds in Pre-K and Kindergarten: Falling Short at the Local Level, click here. To view the data in the FEBP database, click here.

The database expansion and report were made possible with grants from the Foundation for Child Development.

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