States are cutting hundreds of millions from their prekindergarten budgets, undermining years of working to help young children — particularly poor kids — get ready for school.

Kindergarten-PaintingATLANTA — States are cutting hundreds of millions from their prekindergarten budgets, undermining years of working to help young children — particularly poor kids — get ready for school.

States are slashing nearly $350 million from their pre-K programs by next year and more cuts are likely on the horizon once federal stimulus money dries up, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. The reductions mean fewer slots for children, teacher layoffs and even fewer services for needy families who can’t afford high-quality private preschool programs.

One state — Arizona — has proposed eliminating its 5,500-child program entirely. Illinois cut $32 million from last fiscal year’s pre-k budget and plans to slash another $48 million this year.

“The overall impact is less access to a quality education in the early years at a time when parents have reduced capability to purchase that on their own,” said Steve Barnett, co-director of the Rutgers institute. “Families are getting hit from both sides.”

Wealthier parents can afford to send their kids to private preschools, but children from poorer families will likely languish in lower-quality childcare that doesn’t prepare them for kindergarten, experts said.

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Source: Dorie Turner | The Associated Press