Per-student pre-kindergarten spending lowest in decade

WASHINGTON (AP) - State funding for pre-kindergarten programs had its largest drop ever last year and states are now spending less per child than they did a decade ago. That's from a report released Monday by an early education center at Rutgers University.

The report also found that more than a half-million of those preschool students are in programs that don't even meet standards suggested by industry experts that would qualify for federal dollars.

According to the report, for the 2011-2012 school year, both Kansas and Missouri spent the lowest level in 10 years per student. The state of Missouri spent $2,681 per student. The state of Kansas spent $2,123 per student for the same year.

In Kansas, pre-kindergarten programs are funded by tobacco dollars. The report found that between 2010 and 2012, tobacco funds were reduced, preventing significant program growth.

In Missouri, the state met eight of the report's quality standard requirements for the 2011-2012 school year. This is down from nine from the 2010-2011 school year.

Those findings -- combined with Congress' reluctance to spend new dollars -- complicate President Barack Obama's effort to expand pre-K programs across the country. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are trying to promote the president's proposal, but researchers say existing programs are inadequate and their shortcomings need to be addressed first.

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