Early Learning

High quality early learning is the foundation of healthy development, school success, future employability, and overall quality of life. Research consistently shows long-term benefits on investments in Early Childhood Education (ECE), particularly among vulnerable young children whom need supports the most. How many young children in Missouri need supports? Are Missouri’s youngest citizens receiving the educational supports they need?

One indicator of community educational support is the rate of youth not in employment, education, or training, or NEET.  The map below shows the percentage of youths aged 16-19 not employed or enrolled in school who are not high school graduates. (For more information, see the Measure of America report on youth disconnectedness in American cities.)

Youths not enrolled in high school, not high school graduates, and not employed (ACS 2012-16) and locations of higher education facilities (IPEDS).

How many young children in Missouri need supports?

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 60% of all Missouri children age 6 and under are exposed to one or more risk factors (poor, single parent, teen mother, low parental education, non-employed parents, residential mobility, households without English speakers, and large family size). Some 18% of all Missouri children age 6 and under are exposed to 3 or more of those risks (nearly 80,000 young children total).

Two-generational approaches create opportunities for families by coordinating adult and child services, increasing both the effectiveness and efficiency of these supports. Based on an evaluation of state policies using this frame of two-generational approaches, current policies in Missouri promote effective parenting but could be strengthened to support economic security.

Are Missouri’s youngest citizens receiving the educational supports they need?

The positive impact of Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Missouri depends upon the quality and accessibility of ECE programs, both of which are ultimately influenced by state and federal spending.

Based on national evaluations of Missouri’s state-funded Pre-K initiative (Missouri Preschool Program) and federally-funded Head Start program, the overall quality of Missouri’s ECE programs is good and comparable to national averages. The Missouri Preschool Program demonstrated 8 of the 10 quality standards defined by the National Institute for Early Education Research (e.g., teacher training, staff-child ratio). Missouri Head Start and Early Head Start received Classroom Quality Scores in Instructional Support, Emotional Support, and Classroom Organization at/around national averages and research-based thresholds. The 2015 State of Preschool Yearbook highlights Missouri’s particular success with state pre-K program policies for workforce compensation parity. Missouri is one of only 4 states that requires similar pay for Missouri Preschool Program and K-3 teachers and provides at least 2 other workforce supports (e.g., professional development, on-site visits/consultation).

Despite promising indications of ECE program quality in Missouri, too few young children access these supports. Missouri’s enrollment rate for 3 and 4-year-olds in any public Early Childhood Education programs continues to lag behind national averages and is lower than all 8 contiguous states. Compared to 42 states and the District of Columbia that have state-funded pre-K programs, Missouri’s access rate for 4-year-olds is ranked 38th. While 29.6% of Missouri’s school districts enroll students in the Missouri Preschool Program, only 2.8% of 3 and 4-year-old Missourians receive those services.

State and federal spending on ECE programs affects the quality and accessibility of these supports. Funding for the Missouri Preschool Program has increased in recent years, and enrollment in this state-funded pre-K program increased 9.9% in 2014-2015. However, nationally Missouri is ranked 33/43 on state spending and 39/43 on all reported spending for public ECE programs (43 = 42 states and District of Columbia). Missouri received $110.5 million in federal funding for Head Start in 2015. Additional funding needed to serve half of all low-income 3- and 4-year-olds in Missouri totals nearly $229 million.

The map below shows enrollment in different kinds of early childhood programming layered onto poverty data. After clicking the link to access interactive features, toggle between data indicators on the right-hand side of the map: Early Head Start Centers, Head Start Centers, Nationally Accredited Child Care Facilities, Public Schools with Pre-Kindergarten Programs, and Enrollment in School for Children ages 3 & 4.

Indicators of Early Childhood Education & Poverty (click map for interactive features)