New Jersey received high marks for preschool education, according to the 2004 State Preschool Yearbook just released by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. The Yearbook is the second in a series of annual reports profiling state-funded preschool programs in the United States.

As a result of the landmark Abbott rulings, New Jersey is one of four states recognized in the report as a leader in providing preschool. The Abbott preschool program’s quality standards, as mandated by the NJ Supreme Court, meet all but one of NIEER’s quality benchmarks. Abbott programs employ certified teachers who are paid salaries equivalent to other public school teachers. Children enrolled in Abbott preschools receive a six-hour per-day education program, with wrap-around services available through child care funds. Per pupil state spending is more than $8,700, higher than the amount provided by any other state.

While New Jersey is addressing the preschool needs in its lowest income areas — serving nearly 70 percent of the eligible population in the urban or Abbott school districts — the NIEER report points out that it is lagging behind in extending preschool programs to other school districts. The State provides support for preschool programs in 102 non-Abbott districts, but only about one-fifth as many children are enrolled. In addition, the quality standards do not match-up with those for the Abbott districts, although the NJ Department of Education has launched an effort to upgrade those standards.

In 2004-05, New Jersey expects to expand preschool programs in the non-Abbott districts with an additional appropriation of $15 million. It is estimated that another 4,000 low-income preschoolers could be enrolled.

“New Jersey has made extraordinary progress in providing universal, quality preschool programs in our high poverty, high minority urban districts,” said Ellen Boylan, director of ELC’s Starting at 3 National Preschool Initiative. “It is time to move aggressively towards our goal of extending the Abbott preschool program to all 4 year olds in New Jersey by 2010,” she added.

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