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Rural Areas Face Challenge Providing Preschool Programs

State-funded preschool programs for three and four-year-old children now serve over one million children, but pre-K is still unavailable for most three and four-year-olds and is entirely missing in 12 states, some of them the most rural states in the nation. One-quarter of all four-year-olds and half of all three-year-old have no access to preschool education.

A growing body of research has shown that quality preschool education for three and four-year-olds can improve key cognitive functions and social-emotional skills that are critical in school and in life, according to Pre-K Now, an organization advocating pre-kindergarten education. One long-term study of the effects on low-income three and four-year-olds of high-quality early care and education shows that adults at age 40 who participated are more likely to have graduated from high school, are more likely to hold a job, have higher earnings, and have committed fewer crimes.

Research shows economic benefits for preschool education, It lessens future crime, delinquency, and teenage pregnancy. It improves high school graduation rates and college attendance, iemployment opportunities and earnings, even marriage rates. It is estimated that pre-K education returns to the public and individuals up to $17 for every dollar invested.

It is middle income families who lack quality preschool education opportunities for their children. Wealthy families can afford expensive private preschools while the federal Head Start program and most state-funded preschool education is targeted at low-income families. The children left out are disproportionately from middle-income families that can't afford private schools. Children of families living in rural areas are also much less likely to have pre-K programs available to them.

Thirty-eight states provide public support for preschool programs, but only 26 states serve three-year-olds as well as four-year-olds.. Only eight states meet high quality standards such as limited class size and teacher qualifications. The 12 states that do not fund any pre-K education are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North and South Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wyoming.

Average state spending per child in 2006-2007 was $3,642 and 30 states increased their enrollment in that year, but the average expenditure was up only $175.and only $32 after adjusting for inflation. Many economically advanced countries provide free preschool for all children, but in the United States, most preschoolers are not guaranteed any education at all, much less a high quality education.