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.