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Preschool

Research shows that children who have high-quality early learning experiences fare better in school and in life. These children are less likely to drop out, repeat grades, need special education, or get into trouble with the law. Helping all children start school ready to learn is critical to their future success and to the well being of society. It is also essential for closing gaps in achievement among low-income students and students of color.

ELC has led the effort to expand access to high quality preschool. In the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, ELC secured groundbreaking rulings by the New Jersey Supreme Court directing the State of New Jersey to provide full-day kindergarten and well-planned, high quality preschool education for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the State’s poorest urban communities. The Abbott rulings establish key program quality standards, including an age-appropriate curriculum linked to the State’s content standards, small class sizes and certified teachers. Over 40,000 3- and 4-year-old children are now enrolled in preschool in the 31 urban school districts known as Abbotts, and there is a growing body of research demonstrating significant learning gains that these children sustain into their early elementary years.

The Abbott decree is the first court ruling in the nation mandating preschool as an essential component of the right to public education. After a decade of implementation, the Abbott program is a national model. As a result of this work, ELC has gained valuable expertise on preschool issues and advocacy. Through the project Education Justice, ELC offers technical assistance to lawyers, advocacy groups, and state and national policymakers on improving access to high quality preschool education around the country.

Current Issues

In 2008, the New Jersey Legislature passed a new school funding formula, the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). The Abbott preschool program is incorporated into the new formula, with State preschool aid based on the actual cost of the program in the urban districts. The SFRA also phases in an expansion of the Abbott preschool program to all 3- and 4-year-olds in another 82 high poverty districts, and to all low-income children in the remaining districts statewide. When fully implemented, approximately 30,000 additional children will be enrolled in the program.

Preschool expansion under the SFRA, however, has been delayed by the State’s budget difficulties. No funding was provided in FY2010, the first year of a five-year program phase-in, and it appears unlikely that the NJ Legislature will provide any funding to begin expansion in FY2011.

ELC remains in the forefront of the advocacy effort to sustain and strengthen the existing Abbott program and to secure its expansion to all high poverty communities and low-income children statewide.

ELC Publications on Preschool

The Abbott Preschool Program: A 10-Year Progress Report (August 2010)

Integrating Faith-Based Organizations into State-Funded Pre-K Programs: Resolving Constitutional Conflict (June 2010)

Access to Pre-K Education Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (February 2010)

Including Children with Disabilities in State Pre-K Programs (February 2010)

For more, visit the Publications page.

Additional Resources

Regulations/Reports

Organizations

Research

Data on preschool enrollment is available on the Preschool Data page of this website.

Significant Cases

In Abbott v. Burke, ELC secured groundbreaking rulings by the New Jersey Supreme Court directing the State of New Jersey to provide full-day kindergarten and well-planned, high quality preschool education for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the State’s poorest urban communities. The Abbott rulings establish key program quality standards, including an age-appropriate curriculum linked to the State’s content standards, small class sizes and certified teachers. The Abbott decisions that focus on preschool include Abbott V, Abbott VI, Abbott VIII and Abbott XII.

ELC News Stories on Preschool

For a complete list of stories, visit the Preschool section of the News Archives page.