Fewer Missouri kids were attending preschool last year. Lawmakers hope $80 million in funds will help | KCUR

Enrollment in Missouri-funded preschool programs fell during the 2021-2022 school year, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research.

The organization’s 2022 State of Preschool Yearbook examines funding and enrollment for state-funded preschools and preschools across the country. It found enrollment in state-funded kindergartens in Missouri had fallen by 1,215 children to 5,240.

Government spending on preschool programs fell by nearly $800,000 to about $26 million as the state phased out the Missouri Preschool Program that provided grants to pre-K programs.

“Missouri leaders must address this ongoing lack of access, lackluster quality and related teacher retention and pay issues to ensure all children have access to the educational opportunities they deserve,” said the report’s lead author, Allison Friedman-Kraus, in a statement. .

The report also found that Missouri met an additional quality standard benchmark from last year’s report by updating the Missouri Early Learning Standards and Missouri Learning Standards.

The results of the report came as no surprise, said Casey Hanson, director of outreach for Kids Win Missouri, a national children’s advocacy organization. She said families are still dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has prevented some students from attending pre-K.

“I think there was still quite an uptick that year, especially at the pre-K level,” Hanson said. “There are just a lot of families making different choices during the pandemic, whether forced or just doing it based on family necessity.”

State-funded preschool enrollment increased by 180,668 students or 13% nationwide last year. But the country’s total pre-K enrollment of about 1.5 million children is 8% lower than before the pandemic.

The report also noted that Missouri offered no incentives for recruiting and retaining preschool teachers.

A report from the Chamber Foundation and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce shows that the state’s economy loses about $1.3 million annually because of limited childcare as parents stay home to care for their children.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials offer several state grants to retain and hire employees. A spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in a statement that officials hope the new grants will help keep kindergarten teachers employed.

Missouri lawmakers this month approved more than $80 million in pre-K grant funding, $55 million of which went to school districts and charter schools and $26 million to community childcare programs.

Hanson hopes those funds will better reflect the needs of families.

“It can really benefit families to have access to community child care that’s available to them year-round in a way that public pre-K sometimes isn’t,” Hanson said. “To have some of those pre-K dollars, to be able to go to those entities and really provide that opportunity for families to have a little bit of choice to say, ‘You know, I want to join my community-based programs we’ve been on, or “My school offers a program and it works for our family.” It does give some more options.”

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Leave a Comment