Early Childhood Education Programs in the Public Schools

Authored by: Jason T. Hustedt , Dale J. Epstein , W. Steven Barnett

Handbook of Research on the Education of Young Children

Print publication date:  August  2012
Online publication date:  January  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415884341
eBook ISBN: 9780203841198
Adobe ISBN: 9781136897023


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Preschool program enrollment rates of 3- and 4-year-olds have increased dramatically since the mid-1960s, and most children now enter kindergarten having already participated in some type of early education program (Barnett & Yarosz, 2007). States have become increasingly interested in developing and financing prekindergarten education programs (pre-K), helping to fuel this growth, particularly during the past two decades (Barnett, Epstein, Friedman, Sansanelli, & Hustedt, 2009; Mitchell, 2001). Although state pre-K initiatives take a variety of different forms across the United States, they share a number of common features (Barnett, Epstein et al., 2009). First and foremost, they are funded and administered by state government, following specified state regulations. They focus primarily on education for 3-and 4-year-olds, rather than parent education or workforce development. These initiatives are not designed primarily to serve children with disabilities or to offer child care, though coordination with state special education and, to a lesser extent, child care systems is an important component of pre-K initiatives. State pre-K initiatives offer group-based learning experiences to children at least two days per week, and are always voluntary for parents. By fall 2008, state pre-K initiatives had enrolled more than 1.2 million children across 38 U.S. states. Total public spending on these initiatives topped $5.7 billion, including a commitment of $5.0 billion in state funds.

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