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National Data

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), for the 2012-2013 school year, pre-K enrollment was 28 percent at age 4 as the total across all states decreased by nearly 9,000 children. Twenty states increased the percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-K programs by at least one percentage point. After adjusting for inflation, state funding per child increased in 18 of 41 states with programs. Total state funding for pre-K increased by nearly $30 million this year.

However, bad news follows. Eleven states decreased by at least one percentage point in the 2012-2013 school year and after adjusting for inflation, state funding per child declined in 20 of 41 states with programs.

Data Source

NIEER releases the percent of children in state-funded pre-kindergarten as part of its annual State of Preschool report. The NIEER data is available by state only. To obtain district or county data, see “Learn More” below.


As part of its annual State of Preschool report, NIEER sends a detailed survey to all fifty states and asks, among other things, about the total number of children enrolled in preschool. To calculate the percent of children in state-funded pre-kindergarten for each state, the researchers then divide the preschool enrollment numbers by the total number of children in the state using figures collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The NIEER research focuses only on students enrolled in state-sponsored preschools that offer services to children ages three and four.

How to Use the Data

Research shows that pre-kindergarten provides significant benefits for children that may last into adulthood. Children who attend pre-kindergarten are more likely to be school-ready. This means that schools can reap the benefits of pre-k by reducing funds spent on special education and remediation.

How the details were measured

The data is reported as the percent of children in state-funded pre-kindergarten. While the data is not broken down by student populations, the report does provide state-by-state information on the families eligible for preschool programs and if students receive free meals as part of the initiative.

Limitations of the data

For NIEER to give a program credit as a state-sponsored preschool initiative, it must be funded and directed by the state and serve children ages three or four. Programs that serve only infants and toddlers are not given credit. Head Start and private preschool programs also do not receive credit from NIEER.

Key Questions to Ask

Are there private or federally funded preschools that fulfill local needs?

The NIEER study looks only at state-funded preschool programs, which currently make up only about 20 percent of all child care for four-year-old children, although the numbers are rapidly growing. At the local level, federal and non-public programs, like faith-based preschools, often play a significant role in helping families get access to preschools.

What is the local context?

State-sponsored preschool initiatives are so diverse that a national survey will mask some state variations. For instance, some states like Alaska do not fund a state preschool but do offer supplemental funds to the federal Head Start program in order to expand access. Under NIEER’s methodology, such a state initiative does not receive credit as a state-sponsored preschool program.

Learn More

NIEER’s State of Preschool report is a comprehensive examination of preschool programs, providing details on enrollment, quality, and spending. The report also ranks states according to the presence of ten pre-k quality standards, such as requiring pre-k teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and maximum class sizes. It also provides data on Head Start and Special Education preschool programs.

Using a somewhat different methodology, Education Week also publishes data on pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrollment. In a recent report, Education Week researchers calculated the percent of children who attended public and private preschool programs and the percent of children who attended public or private kindergarten programs. As opposed to NIEER, Education Week does not separate public or private programs, nor does it examine the quality of these programs.

To obtain the number of students in preschool or kindergarten by state or county, you can download the data from the Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder tool. To obtain the data, visit the American Community Survey site, and then click on detailed tables, then geographic area, and then choose table C14002, which is titled “School enrollment by level of school by type of school for the population 3 years and over.” To calculate the percentage of students in the state or county that are enrolled in the programs, you will also need to download the total number of children. To get that piece of information, visit the American Community Survey site and then click on detailed tables, then geographic area, and then choose table number B01001, which is titled “Sex by age.”

Additional Resources

Demonstrating success:

The Pre-k advantage: Setting the stage for student success—A tiny rural Missouri district with an enrollment that’s one-third economically disadvantaged uses home visits by a pre-k teacher, biweekly pre-k playgroups, community volunteers, a focus on language arts, and innovative approaches to professional development and instruction to graduate all of its students from high school on time and send almost three-quarters of them on to college.