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National survey finds Delaware lagging in preschool access

Preschool class
Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A recent report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education ranks Delaware low when it comes to access to preschool when compared to other states nationally.

Delaware Public Media's Joe Irizarry spoke with the institute's founder and senior co-director Steve Barnett about Delaware's ranking, how it can improve and if actions promised by the governor can make a difference.

Delaware Public Media's Joe Irizarry interviews the founder and senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, Steve Barnett

A recent survey finds access to preschool in Delaware is low as the pandemic highlighted and intensified problems.

The 2021 State of Preschool Yearbook was released this week by the National Institute for Early Education (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

Steve Barnett is NIEER’s founder and senior co-director, and he says Delaware lags behind in early childhood education enrollment both nationally and regionally.

"Delaware's program serves just 6% of 4-year-olds and 2% of 3-year-olds. As a national average those figures would be 29% and 5%, and each of the neighbors Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey are considerably higher in terms of percentage of kids that they serve than Delaware," said Barnett.

Delaware did rank 13th in state spending per child at $7,277.

Enrollment in state-funded preschool saw a decrease of 15 to 830, state spending for preschool programs in the state was just over $6.1 million which was a decrease adjusted for inflation.

Delaware did meet 9 of 10 quality standards benchmarks in the report.

Nationally, the report lists 298,000 fewer children enrolled in preschool with the pandemic being a cause with state pre-K spending at $8.97 billion, which is an inflation adjusted decrease of about $255 million.

Even though those numbers reflect the first full pandemic year, Barnett says pre-pandemic numbers showed Delaware already lagging behind.

"The nation as a whole doubled access over the last 20 years. Over the last 20 years Delaware increased access not at all,” said Barnett. “Really the only notable change in two decades in Delaware is a decrease in how much is spent per child adjusting for inflation, and that's pretty sad commentary."

Barnett did say while the additional $11.4 million Gov. Carney put in his proposed budget for child care providers and workers will help some children and families, he doesn’t think it will help preschool access.

He believes the state could add a tenth of one percent of its budget for the next five years, and most low-income children in the state would be served in a quality preschool program.

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Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.