NJ Leads Nation in Preschool Attendance

November 4, 2013

Contact: Nancy Parello, Communications Director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, 973-643-3876, 908-399-6031, nparello@acnj.org

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New Jersey is top in the nation for the percentage of children attending preschool, according to a national report released today. Still, an estimated 88,000 New Jersey children lack access to a quality early education that can help them succeed in school and in life.

The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success by the Annie E. Casey Foundation sounds the alarm that the nation is failing to invest enough in a child’s early years. Decades of brain and child development research shows that kids who enter kindergarten with below-average language abilities and who are not reaching their development milestones require additional support to acquire the skills they need to succeed in school, the report said.

Preschool is one of those critical supports, research shows.

New Jersey provides high-quality, state-funded preschool to children living in 35 school districts. These successful preschools have been proven to improve children’s chances for school success. A recent study by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers found that by 4th or 5th grade, New Jersey children who attended state-funded, quality preschools are, on average, three-quarters of an academic year ahead of students who did not attend a quality preschool.

Despite this success and a 2008 mandate that New Jersey expand these preschools, just four school districts have received funds to do so.

“While New Jersey has led the nation on providing preschool to low-income children, thousands of children are still denied this early education simply because of where they live,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which is leading the push for preschool expansion. “It is best for all children, our communities and our state if young students arrive at kindergarten with the foundation they need to succeed in school.”

The Casey report includes data on children from birth to age eight for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation.

In 2011, 134,000 New Jersey children were enrolled in preschool — or about 62 percent of all 3- and 4-year-olds, according to additional data provided by the Casey Foundation. Children living in low-income families were less likely to be enrolled in preschool, with 55 percent attending. That compares to 65 percent of children living in families earning 200 percent or more of the federal poverty level, or about $45,600 for a family of four.

Zalkind noted that roughly one-third of New Jersey students are not reading on target by 3rd grade – a pivotal year when children begin reading to learn, rather than learning to read. Without this early literacy, children are more likely to fail in school. Preschool can help boost early literacy.

ACNJ called for a $10 million down payment that could be used to expand existing preschools from half- to full-day, create new preschool classrooms to serve children who currently are not attending high-quality preschool or a combination of both.

“As state departments begin building their budgets, we urge the Legislature and Governor to view this as a critical investment in our children’s education and the future of our state – an investment we can no longer afford to delay,” Zalkind said.

To view the report, visit www.aecf.org. Additional data is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The data center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private national philanthropy that creates better futures for the nation’s children by strengthening families, building economic opportunities and transforming neighborhoods into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.