Who's Leading the Way on Early Education and Why It Matters.

Words + Graphics: Hyan Freitas

Research Indicates that the key to a successful academic career has to do with getting off to a good start. Although there is bi-partisan support for high-quality early education, some states are doing a better job than others on not only getting young students to enroll but even to provide significant funding for education overall.

The data on early education also serves as a call to action, making clear what the future holds if early education programs are funded compared to if they're not.

The Extra Edge

Before looking at how states are doing in terms of getting kids enrolled in school early and whether those education programs are getting enough funding, it perhaps makes sense to dive right into what research tells us about the impact of these programs.

The Center for Public Education highlights a study from the 1960s which compares kids who are in a early education program to kids who are not. Specifically, "the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project followed 123 low-income black children who were randomly divided into two groups—one that received a comprehensive preschool program and a second group that received no early childhood program. Those in the intervention group received a high-quality pre-k program with well-trained and compensated teachers and low child/staff ratios. Researchers then compared the progress of these children over time, assessing issues such as educational progress, delinquency, earnings, and other economic factors."

What they found is clear in the chart below: early education programs make a difference.

The results are clear, but whether they are well known is not.

At a glance: Percentage of 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in school

Northeastern states seem to be leading the way in getting their kids into the school system early.

There you find New Jersey and Connecticut, both states with 62% enrolled.

However, also in that region Rhode Island and Maine stick out with low enrollment with 44% and 45% respectively.

It's also worth noting the breakdown by race. Each state looks a little different in terms of whether whites or african-americans make up the majority of children enrolled.

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Investing in Every Student

Despite the evidence of benefits, not all states are seeing an increase in per student funding for elementary education. The chart below is a snapshot of inflation-adjusted expenditures per pupil for public elementary and secondary education from 1996 to 2011.

An article in the Washington Post explains that "part of the variation is due to the huge differences in costs of living nationwide, which influence everything from teacher salaries to the cost of building and maintaining school facilities. Part is also due to economic realities — many states’ education spending remains lower than it was before the recession. And part of the variation is due to political decisions to invest more or less in schools, or to do more or less to equalize education spending across low- and high-income areas."

Most Per Pupil
Stagnant Funding
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Meeting Funding Benchmarks

Now even as we take a closer look at which states are funding early education and which are cutting back, there is perhaps an even bigger issue to be grappled with when looking at whether current funding, no matter how much it is, is even up to the standards set by groups like the National Institute for Early Education Research.

The states below are in order from states that have spent the most total resources per child enrolled in pre-k. But as we go down the list, we begin to better see not only the differences in spending but also how that spending compares with benchmarks set by NIEER. The further down the list we go, not only do we find the states spending less but also the states that have the biggest gap to fill to meet the minimum funding benchmark.

In Florida for example, the reported spending per child according to a 2014 report was $2,238. The minimum NIEER benchmark however for Florida is $4,456. That leaves Florida with a funding gap of $2,217 per child.

Note: Not included are the states of Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. These states do not have programs

The Vicious Cycle: Adult Education V.S. A Child's Success

Helping make the case for funding education programs, particularly early education programs, is data that reveals what is at stake if the issues tied to a lack of quality education aren't addressed. Even with funding, the education system must still overcome the academic disfunction that manifests itself in cycles.

Think of it as a vicious cycle. A cycle in which the child whose parent wasn't able to advance his or her education grows up to become a parent who wasn't able to advance his or her own education. The future is not waiting for those caught up in this cycle. Experts predict "by 2020, the United States is expected to face a shortage of 1.5 million workers with college degrees but will have a surplus of 6 million individuals without a high school diploma who are unemployed because they lack necessary educational credentials."

Perhaps proving that a great education starts at home, data shows how the highest education of the adult in a household relates to a child's success in school.

The chart below breaks down the states who have a bigger link between kids repeating a grade coming from a household where an adult has lower than a high school education compared to the states which have a smaller link.

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So what's the takeaway here: early education programs have a clear benefit and students are enrolling, but in some states they're being met with a system that is operating under decreased funding, below investment benchmarks or both. These are issues that should be addresed because it represents a commitment not only to current young students but a commitment to future generations.


National Center For Education Statistics
National Institute for Early Education Research
NIIER: The State of Preschool 2014 Report
Center for Public Education
National Association of State Budget Officers
2011 National Survey of Children's Health
Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health
Education Commission of the States
Florida Department of Education

Other links:

Project Inspiration
Personal Site || Portfolio, Resume

This project was done for the Interactive Data Visualization Class Taught by Professor Lynn Cherny|| University of Miami Interactive Media MFA Program Spring 2016