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Delaware Remains Among Lowest States Providing Pre-K for Four-Year-Olds

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The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released its latest state rankings for pre-K enrollment, and, much like last year, Delaware landed toward the bottom at 36th in terms of providing access for four-year-olds. Less than 10 percent of Delaware four-year-olds are enrolled in state-sponsored pre-K.

 

Little has changed with Delaware’s NIEER standing since 2002 with preschool enrollment and spending per child relatively flat, while our state-funded pre-K (ECAP) has not been expanded since its inception in the 1990. The report correctly mentioned that the program expanded eligibility to include three-year-olds for the first time in 2017-2018, but Delaware is not yet serving three-year-olds in ECAP.

 

Make no mistake: Delaware has seen some great early learning progress over the last decade. But NIEER’s rankings put Delaware behind all of our neighboring states and many others across the country in terms of four-year-olds being served by state-supported pre-K.

And, when Head Start, special education, and ECAP are included, Delaware ranks 36th for enrollment of low-income students.

 

Three- and four-year-olds in Delaware attend a scattershot of pre-K offerings, if they attend at all. Some providers are funded through the state, some are private businesses, while others receive a mix of private and public funding. There is little coordination or alignment between various programs.

 

In Delaware and other states, state-funded pre-K typically carries higher standards than other childcare options when it comes to academics, staff (BAs for teachers and Child Development Associate degrees for assistants, as recommended by NIEER), and expectations on the students. And, as we’ve noted before, as we continue to align the pre-K and K-12 systems, we need to ensure as many kids as possible are coming to kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed.

 

This jibes with recent ELS data that show us nearly half of Delaware students are entering kindergarten behind the curve, signaling the need to increase access and quality of state-sponsored pre-K—and all early learning environments that support young people from birth.

 

The good news is there’s a lot of interest in Delaware to improve our ranking and serve more children.

 

  • Local and national studies agree—pre-K can have a big impact.
    • Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, who initiated the Project V.I.L.L.A.G.E. program in Indian River School District, found that English learner participants in pre-K outperformed their nonparticipating peers through high school.
    • A UD study demonstrated that ECAP participants were outperforming their nonparticipating peers through middle school.
    • Pre-K is one of the highest return on investments a state can make.
  • Delawareans support expansion.
    • 86 percent of Delawareans in a recent poll support expanding pre-K.
    • Delaware recently joined a national network focused on high quality pre-K expansion through CCSSO.
    • The Vision Coalition of Delaware in Student Success 2025 recommended to “establish and incrementally expand voluntary, full-day, high-quality prekindergarten for three- and four-year-olds.”
    • Districts across the state are expanding their programs, especially Colonial.
    • The Coalition for Our Kids has advocated for greater investment in ECAP.
  • And, it’s possible—we have a model. In the 2000s, Delaware implemented a 10-year, phased-in, full-day kindergarten requirement during which districts had the time to build facilities, raise the local funding required, hire teachers, and inform families. Pre-K could be done in much the same way, but with public and private settings, with community-based providers providing services as they do now.

 

Contact your legislator and the governor to encourage them to invest in high-quality pre-K.

 

As we’ve said many times on this blog, investments in quality early learning yield enormous returns, for students, families, and society as a whole.

Continuing to Appeal for Early Learning Investments

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As this recent News Journal article summarized, due in part to a budget shortfall, Delaware will not fund tiered reimbursements for new early learning programs entering the Stars quality rating program this fiscal year. The same is true of existing programs that are attempting to move up in Stars rating.

 

Already, we in the early learning community are hearing about programs considering dropping out of Stars. Today there are 35,457 Delaware children in 495 ‘Stars’ programs statewide. Eighty-two percent of Stars programs have undertaken the necessary and difficult work to reach a Star level 3 or higher, with 66 percent of all programs at Star 4 or 5. These programs depend on tiered reimbursement to serve children from low-income families.

Financial challenges could lead to the unraveling of Stars, which supports and incentivizes the quality we know produces the best results for children. Most programs cannot shoulder the financial reality of providing service for Purchase of Care children (those who qualify for state subsidy) without tiered reimbursement.

 

[Click here to get a sense for how tiered reimbursement works in Delaware]

 

This means that access to quality options will decline. The stability of working families will be threatened. Programs may close altogether. We need to do more for our youngest citizens and their families.

 

And, we know our young population is growing: three- to four-percent growth of children in families qualifying for Purchase of Care each year means tiered reimbursements need to grow with them.

 

We urge you to support the $5.9 million door-opener that was recommended by the Delaware Department of Education.

 

Remember that even with this level of funding (based on the 2011 market rate), one-third to one-half of kindergartners are arriving unprepared and about half of third graders cannot read on grade level—a predictor of high school graduation.

 

Join us to advocate for continued investment in young children’s learning: Reach out to legislators and the governor encouraging them to support the $5.9 million door-opener to improve long term outcomes for families.

Delaware Still Lagging Behind in State-Supported Pre-K

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According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Delaware ranks 35th among states for pre-K enrollment, with only seven percent (845) of four-year olds enrolled in state-sponsored pre-K.

(To see more on pre-K enrollment across the country, check out NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook.)

Despite Delaware’s laudable progress in early childhood education, the fact remains that we’re below most other states when it comes to state-sponsored pre-K. Why is that figure important? As we’ve noted before, as we continue to align the pre-K and K-12 systems, we need to ensure as many kids as possible are coming to kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed. Right now, Delaware pre-K offerings are scattershot: Some providers are funded through the state, some are private businesses, while others receive a mix of private and public funding. There is little coordination or alignment between various programs.

In other states, government-funded pre-K typically carries higher standards than other childcare options when it comes to academics, staff (BAs for teachers and Child Development Associate degrees for assistants, as recommended by NIEER), and expectations on the students.

A 2002 study showed that children in Delaware participating in state-sponsored pre-K performed at a higher rate than their peers on 3rd and 5th grade state tests. Meanwhile, district-level initiatives like Project V.I.L.L.A.G.E. (Verbally Intensive Literacy and Learning Activities for Growth in Education) in Indian River School District have proven successful at providing comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, and quality early childhood programming for economically challenged families in Delaware.

The stark reality is nearly half of Delaware students are entering kindergarten behind the curve, signaling the need to increase access and quality of state-sponsored pre-K—and all early learning environments that support young people from birth.

In Delaware, pre-K for four-year-olds takes many forms:

  • Delaware’s state-funded pre-K for four-year-olds is the Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP), which was established in 1994 and has not been expanded since. It currently serves 845 four-year-olds with a program that is three and a half hours a day for nine months a year in district, Headstart, and early childcare settings
  • Headstart (federally funded)
  • District programs (funded by Title I, Purchase of Care, 21st Century funds)
  • Community-based programs (family pay, Purchase of Care)

As Delaware considers expanding and improving pre-K in the years to come, some principles we would suggest:

  • Maintaining and increasing quality, including staff qualifications, meaningful dose and duration, curriculum, and assessment
  • A mixed delivery system (of district and community settings)
  • Alignment with K-12 standards and expectations

In order to consider expanding, we may need to better understand our current performance standards, staff qualification requirements, and funding available—and needed—for these programs.

As we’ve said many times on this blog, investments in quality early learning yield enormous returns, for students, families, and society as a whole. And Delawareans agree that getting our students off to a great start is crucial.

The 2016 Vision Coalition of Delaware Statewide Survey of Public Opinion on Education in Delaware showed that a majority of Delawareans believe in the power of quality early learning.

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