When Head Start was launched in 1965, few if any states had early childhood programs. Today up to 46 states and the District of Columbia provide funding for preschool.(2) Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have designed, implemented, and funded their own pre-kindergarten programs on a large-scale.(3) Though eligibility requirements differ across states, most state-funded pre-kindergarten programs give enrollment priority to children whose families have low income, or who are otherwise at risk for poor school achievement.(4)
An increasingly large number of children are being served by state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. Education Week recently estimated that more than 750,000 three- and four-year-old children are served each year,(5) coming close to the 850,000 served by Head Start.
State financial investments in these programs are substantial and have been increasing. States spend more than two billion dollars annually on pre-kindergarten.(6) Even under current fiscal conditions most states are continuing to make pre-kindergarten programs a priority. In fact, one-third of Governors highlighted the importance of early education in their 2003 State of the State addresses.(7)
Though almost every state has pre-kindergarten, about a dozen states account for roughly 80% of the children served(8) and ten states account for two-thirds of dollars spent.(9)