State of Our Schools: Comparison of state pre-K programs

Each state takes a unique approach to pre-K. Here is a look at what a few other states offer in state-funded pre-school programs:

View the entire State of Our Schools series, including the current installment on pre-K here:


In 2013, the Legislature approved state funding on pre-K programs for the first time. The state currently spends $6 million annually, or $3 million each on two different programs – the Mississippi Early Learning Collaborative grant program and Mississippi Building Blocks.

The collaborative program provides grants to 11 community-based collaborative efforts to help them improve the quality of existing programs and add seats for more children. Mississippi Building Blocks provides resources and coaching to existing private programs to help them improve their quailty.



First Class: Alabama’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program, funds at least one 4-year-old classroom in 97 percent of the state’s counties, through a competitive grant process. First Class classrooms are located in Head Start programs, private child care centers, community organizations, faith-based centers, colleges and universities, military agencies and public schools.

All state residents meeting age criteria are eligible for the program, but due to limited resources, enrollment has stayed relatively low. Fewer than 4,000 children were enrolled during the 2012-13 school year.




Tennessee’s Early Childhood Education Pilot Project began in 1998 with 30 classrooms in a variety of settings through a competitive grant program. The Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Act of 2005 prompted the launch of the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program, adding 300 new classrooms to the existing ECE Pilot Project. During the 2011-12 school year, 18,609 children were enrolled.

Grants are available only to public schools through the competitive process, though schools may contract with private child care agencies, Head Start agencies, institutions of higher education, public housing authorities and any three-star rated community-based or private child-serving agency where lead teachers are licensed in early childhood education. All 136 school systems have at least one VPK classroom. Eligibility is determined using a three-tier prioritization system, that places emphasis on family income level, history of abuse of neglect and single-parent families, among other factors.



Louisiana operated three state-funded preschool programs during the 2012-13 school years.

During the 2012-13 school year, 68 of 70 school districts were using the Student Enhancement Block Grant program to offer preschool to at-risk 4-year olds. It reached 2,643 children in 2012-13.

The Cecil J. Picard LA4 Early Childhood Program was established in 2001 and is Louisiana’s largest pre-K program. In 2012-13, it reached 16,028 4-year-olds and was located in most parishes and several charter schools. Four-year-olds are eligible to attend at no cost if they meet free- or reduced-price lunch criteria. 

The Non-Public Schools Early Childhood Development Program was also established in 2001 to provide tuition reimbursement to families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level who enroll 4-year-olds in qualifying preschools. It reached 1,200 4-year-olds in 2013.



A 2002 constitutional amendment requiring pre-K access for all of Florida’s 4-year-olds led to the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program. It became effective in 2005 and enrolled more than 174,000 children, 78 percent of the population, in 2012-13.

VPK is provided in public schools, licensed child care centers, accredited non-public schools, accredited faith-based centers and licensed family child care homes. More than 80 percent are in non-public school settings. Regional early learning coalitions monitor compliance and distribute funds to VPK programs based on a fixed hourly rate. VPK providers are evaluated annually based on results of the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener.

Meanwhile, Florida’s School Readiness Program offers financial assistance for child care to qualified parents.




Georgia’s pre-K program, established in 1993, became the nation’s first state-funded universal preschool program for 4-year-olds in 1995. State lottery revenues are used to fund the program, which is available in a variety of settings, including public schools, private child care centers, faith-based organizations, Head Start agencies, state colleges and universities and military facilities. On-site monitoring allows the state to track implementation of the program’s quality standards. In 2012-13, it enrolled 81,683 4-year-olds, or 58 percent of the state population



Oklahoma began its Early Childhood Four-Year-Old Program in 1980, planning to ultimately serve all 4-year-olds in the state. In 1998, it became the second state in the nation to provide free admission to preschool programs for all 4-year-olds. The program is now available in 99 percent of school distircts. In 2012-13, it served 40,114 4-year-olds, or 74 percent of the state’s population.

Public school districts receive funding for the program through the state’s school finance formula. Districts can place public school teachers in child care centers, Head Start settings and community-based programs. 

The Early Childhood Expansion Project used public and private backing to serve 314 children from birth to age 4. Oklahoma delivered $2 million in state funds to complement the federal Head Start program, supporting extended day and additional services.

The Pilot Early Childhood Program delivers year-round service for at-risk children. Funding comes from public and private foundations, and it helped 2,642 children from birth through age 3 in 2011-12.


Source: National Institute for Early Education Research, The State of Preschool 2013.

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