Voluntary pre-kindergarten programs are gaining popularity as an education policy tool, as nearly 30 governors are proposing more than $800 million in new pre-K investments, according to a report released Wednesday.
The investments being proposed are triple the amount of last year's planned pre-K increases, the report said.
"All the research just shows pre-K is a tried and true strategy for school readiness. ... In the past, kindergarten teachers could only move as fast as the slowest student," North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, said in a conference call with reporters during the unveiling of a report done by advocacy group Pre-K Now.
The Pre-K Now report said that if state legislatures go along, more than 100,000 additional 3- and 4-year-olds could get into pre-K programs nationwide.
"The bottom line is that gubernatorial support for pre-K is on the rise nationally," the report said. "As programs promise impressive returns on investment and reap remarkable educational benefits for children, more and more governors are recognizing pre-K's political, fiscal and educational value."
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat now in his second term, is mentioned in the report as among those governors championing new pre-K investments.
Since the fall of 2005, 529 new pre-K classrooms have opened in 124 school districts in Tennessee. The state's pre-K program serves slightly more than 13,000 children, according to Tennessee Education Commissioner Lana Seivers.
The report noted Bredesen seeks to add more than 200 new pre-K classrooms and serve 4,000 more children.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, has begun a "Start Strong" pilot pre-K program to serve roughly 1,250 children.
"The nationwide support for pre-K is bipartisan," said Pre-K Now Executive Director Libby Doggett. "Nine Republicans and 20 Democrats have recommended increases in their budgets. ... Access to high-quality pre-K and the early reading, math and social skills it fosters shouldn't be about luck, income level or street address. Pre-K should be available to any family who wants it."
Doggett also noted pre-K education is key to advancing the nation's growing Latino population.
"Twenty-one percent of children under the age of 5 are Hispanic. ... (Kids in pre-K) require fewer special education services, they perform better on tests, and they have a greater chance of graduating high school."
Pre-K programs have grown dramatically over the last two decades, with almost two dozen states launching or expanding programs in the 1990s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
"With the passage of No Child Left Behind, states are reconsidering how to close the achievement gap and improve student performance," said an NCSL overview of early childhood education. "Parent demand for pre-kindergarten programs has increased. Currently, more than half of children ages 3 to 5 but not yet in kindergarten were enrolled in some form of pre-kindergarten, totaling more than 4.3 million children in the United States."
Pre-K Now is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts and other funding organizations.
For more about the Pre-K Now report, go to www.preknow.org.