More VA kids in state pre-school, with less gov't funding

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - More four-year-olds in Virginia are enrolling in state-funded pre-school, but there's less money to teach them, according to a report from the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Abut eleven states have pre-K programs with nearly a million-and-a half kids enrolled throughout the country. NIEER's study ranked those states. Virginia came in at 26th for the number of four-year-olds in state pre-school, at 16 percent. The rest of the state's children that age attend either private school, another federal program or aren't enrolled early education programs at all.

Enrollment in state pre-k grew by more than six-percent last school year. However, when it comes to funding, Virginia dropped from 19th to 21st. That's because spending per child fell by nearly $500. In 2010, funding was $4,305 per student. In 2011, that figure was cut to $3,808. Advocates say without pre-school, many students are doomed to fail.

"They don't behave well. They don't learn much. They don't get rewarded by the school. Before you know it, they're on a path to high school dropout. That's a pathway to prison," says Steve Barnett, of NIEER.

Virginia is the not the only state where funding for pre-k has been cut. Nationwide, states are spending a total of 60 million less.

Quality is another concern. Only 12 states met all of the group's criteria for quality pre-school classes. That includes factors like highly-educated teachers, training, small class sizes and screenings. Virginia met seven of the ten benchmarks.