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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Steven Goryayinov and Natalie Nguyen listen to a story in a preschool classroom at Bicentennial Elementary School Thursday, February 9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Preschool instructor Debbie Dunne, right, teaches the days of the week to her class at Bicentennial Elementary School Thursday, February 9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Preschoolers work in a carpeted area of their classroom at Bicentennial Elementary School Thursday, February 9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Students in a preschool classroom at Bicentennial Elementary School learn colors and shapes along with each others names Thursday, February 9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Preschoolers, from left, Nicolai Vanderveen, Ryan Ostrowski, Pratham Mukewar, Marissa Williams, and Sam Gonzales listen to a story in their classroom at Bicentennial Elementary School Thursday, February 9, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Mary Kelley works with Isaiah Gannon, right, while Steven Goryayinov rolls out his clay to make a car in their preschool classroom at Bicentennial Elementary School Thursday, February 9, 2012.
Thursday, April 12, 2012

Study: NH lagging behind other states in pre-K education

Cameron Kittle

The Nashua Board of Education eliminated funding for two additional preschool classrooms during the budget process last month, a step in the wrong direction for education, according to one national report.

New Hampshire is one of just 11 states without state-funded preschool programs and the only state in the Northeast.

That leaves young Granite State students struggling to catch up, according to the report by the National Institute of Early Education Research, which collected 10 years of data from state preschool programs across the country.

Steve Barnett, director of the institute, said the national picture is “sobering” – overall state funding for preschool programs has declined about 15 percent in 10 years – but several states have made progress in funding preschool education.

However, Barnett said the Granite State has “yet to get out of the starting gate” in preschool education.

That’s a mistake that must be corrected in order to address concerns about literacy, school readiness and long-term educational and social outcomes, he said.

“Research confirms time and time again that high-quality early education is a proven approach for narrowing the achievement gap,” Barnett said in a statement. “States need to plan for future growth in pre-K just as they would for major projects, such as infrastructure, and avoid viewing pre-K as a year-to-year funding decision.”

Nashua Superintendent Mark Conrad proposed adding two preschool classrooms to the district budget next year at a cost of $94,425, but the Board of Education voted it down.

Marcia Bagley, the district’s preschool director, said Nashua lost a huge opportunity to reach students early when that proposal failed.

“It’s frustrating as an educator to see these students not afforded the same opportunities as a lot of other students in other states,” she said. “We could be doing so much more for our students, but we’re not.”

In October, Nashua enrollment figures showed 789 students in kindergarten, yet teacher surveys showed that at least 39 percent of those kids were not ready for kindergarten.

At Amherst Street School, nearly three quarters of incoming kindergarten students were not adequately prepared, based on teacher feedback, Bagley said. Birch Hill and Broad Street elementary schools showed 38 and 21 percent of students not ready for school, respectively, and the lowest figure for any school was 8 percent, at Charlotte Avenue Elementary.

“Kids who come and have never had school experience, they’re really trying to catch a moving target,” Bagley said. “In Nashua, we do a really good job of educating our students, especially those with special needs and those who can afford to attend preschool. Unfortunately, we don’t have universal preschool. That’s where the breakdown comes with these kids.”

The district enrollment for preschool is about 300 students, many of which are children with special needs or those who qualify for low-income programs.

The Manchester School District has about 300 students in its preschool programs, while smaller districts like Merrimack, Hudson and Milford have smaller enrollments of about 80, 60 and 25 students, respectively.

Because there is no state funding, those programs must be funded locally.

“All the research tells us, ‘The earlier intervention the better,’” Bagley said. “Language development is huge in that age range. Teaching them play skills, independence skills. Kindergarten teachers have to work on those things now, when they could have been working on them in preschool.”

Pre-K programs are growing across the country, with 51 state programs across 39 states in 2010-11 compared to 42 programs in 37 states 10 years ago. National enrollment in state-funded preschool education has nearly doubled in that same timeframe, according to the national report.

Bagley knows the cost would be huge if New Hampshire decided to mandate preschool, but she said the state would save money down the line.

Still, New Hampshire only recently mandated kindergarten, and there’s little hope that they’ll do the same with preschool anytime soon, she said.

“It’s kind of the New Hampshire way, live free or die,” she said. “It’s a big monetary investment and unfortunately, not everybody buys into early education and intervention.”

The Learning Curve appears Thursdays in The Telegraph.