But we're in a recession. State budgets are tight. And as Tracie Potts reports advocates worry that even with stimulus money in the pipeline, the nation's youngest students may suffer.
The nation's top educator headed back to class today... Warning states against taking money from their youngest students: "we're not going to balance the budget on the backs of our young children. We just can't afford to do this."
All but 12 states pay for pre-k programs. The federal government also funds head start, for low-income kids. Last year, states added more than 100-thousand new preschoolers... And spent a billion more on them than the year before.
The national institute for early education research looks not only at how many kids are in class... But the quality of those programs. Nine states improved this year. Only one fell back. Educators say it's important for kids to learn abcs and social skills before Kindergarten.
"While we think that kindergarten, oh we're starting them early - there's less of an achievement gap - the reality is that kids are coming in with a variety of experiences, vocabulary, exposure to books." Making it tough for teachers to get them all caught up, on the same level, in just nine months.
Nieer, the research group, is pushing for the federal government to match what states are spending... And for universal preschool for all four year olds, by the year 2020.