Press reports indicate that the new budget agreement contains an additional $18 million for pre-school in 2016, a 25 percent increase in state funding that would open up public pre-school to 5,125 more low-income four year-olds. Though the budget delays expansion by one year from what the House and governor had proposed, it adopts the governor’s guidelines for a larger expansion of eligiblity.
In this and his previous budget proposal (for 2012-2014), Governor Beshear included an expansion of pre-school eligibility to families with incomes below 160 percent of the federal poverty level from the current 150 percent, and his stated longer-term goal has been to expand eligibility to 200 percent before he leaves office. But the legislature denied the request last time, and state funding for pre-school was in fact 5 percent lower in 2013 than it was in 2008, and 13 percent lower after adjusting for inflation.
The House’s budget included funding for an expansion to about 156 percent of poverty for two years, while the Senate did not provide monies for expansion. According to media stories, in the final budget agreement eligibility reaches 160 percent in the second year of the budget. That costs $8 million less over the biennium than the House’s proposal, but establishes a higher precedent for eligibility and funding in future budgets.
Kentucky is not alone in increasing monies for pre-school. Last year 40 states expanded pre-school funding. South Carolina boosted pre-school funding by 80 percent, Michigan by 60 percent, Alabama by almost 50 percent and Ohio by more than 40 percent.
The rising popularity of pre-school is based on mounting evidence of its effectiveness. Research by economist James Heckman and others shows spending on pre-school for low-income children is a high-return investment that pays back in greater educational attainment and earnings, lower crime rates and less social spending later in life. Heckman reports that high-quality pre-school programs particularly help kids strengthen non-cognitive skills (like patience and dependability) that are extraordinarily beneficial to development.
However, the budget agreement only partially replaces lost funds for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) in 2015, although it fully restores those funds in 2016. That program had been cut by over $50 million last summer when federal funding ended, and child care advocates have pushed for a full restoration. The shortfall in 2015 will be a hardship for already-strapped child care centers, hinder another important source of early childhood education and impact workers who rely on the support to find and keep jobs.
The details of how these programs and related ones fared in the budget will become clearer once the final budget bill is available.