2019’s States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems

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While good elementary schools, high schools and colleges are important factors for parents to consider when choosing where to settle down, the availability of quality pre-K education is just as crucial.

A study by the National Institute for Early Education Research showed that students enrolled in full-day pre-K programs do better on math and literacy tests than their peers who attend only partial day preschool. In addition, those who attend pre-K programs have been shown to have less risk of future crime than those who do not. Plus, pre-K programs may generate billions of dollars for the economy over a few decades, due to lessening the need for social services and creating more productive citizens.

To help parents find the states with the best early education systems, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 12 key metrics, including share of school districts that offer a state pre-K program, number of pre-K quality benchmarks met and total reported spending per child enrolled in pre-K.

  1. Main Findings
  2. Ask the Experts
  3. Methodology

Main Findings Embed on your website<iframe src="//d2e70e9yced57e.cloudfront.net/wallethub/embed/62668/geochart-early-education.html" width="556" height="347" frameBorder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe> <div style="width:556px;font-size:12px;color:#888;">Source: <a href="https://ift.tt/2ZabvM9>


States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems

Overall Rank


Total Score

‘Access’ Rank

‘Quality’ Rank

‘Resources & Economic Support’ Rank

2District of Columbia70.4712011
6West Virginia62.2861019
7Rhode Island60.662762
11New Jersey54.61122310
13South Carolina54.32111238
29North Carolina44.5744929
37South Dakota40.54282440
39New Mexico39.54413418
42New Hampshire37.39312448
43New York37.05404320
48North Dakota32.54235033


Ask the Experts

Giving a child a good early education is something that can benefit them for their entire career as a student. For more insight into [Insert intro] this vital developmental step, we consulted a panel of experts. Click on the experts below to read their bios and thoughts on the following key questions:

  1. What are the most important factors that influence a child’s educational development?
  2. Is education spending a direct measure of education quality?
  3. How can residents know whether their tax dollars are being used wisely by local authorities on early education?
  4. What can state and local policymakers do to improve their school systems without raising taxes?
  5. In evaluating the best and worst early education systems, what are the top 5 indicators?
< >More Experts


In order to determine the best and worst states for early education systems, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three key dimensions, “Access,” “Quality” and “Resources & Economic Support.”

We evaluated those dimensions using 12 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest quality of early education.

Finally, we determined each state and the District’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.

Acces – Total Points: 40
  • Share of School Districts that Offer State Pre-K Program: Full Weight (~5.71 Points)
  • Share of 3- and 4-year-olds Enrolled in State Pre-K Program: Double Weight (~11.43 Points)
  • Share of 3- and 4-year-olds Enrolled in Pre-K, Pre-K Special Education and Head Start Programs: Full Weight (~5.71 Points)
  • Presence of Waiting Lists or Frozen Intake for Child Care Assistance: Double Weight (~11.43 Points)Note: Even if families are eligible for child care assistance, they may not necessarily receive it. Instead, their state may place eligible families on a waiting list or freeze intake (turn away eligible families without adding their names to a waiting list). Families may remain on the waiting list for a long time before receiving child care assistance, or may never receive it.
  • Pre-K Program Growth: Full Weight (~5.71 Points)
Quality – Total Points: 40
  • Pre-K Quality Benchmarks Met: Full Weight (~10.00 Points)Note: This metric considers the following benchmarks: 1) Early learning & development standards, 2) Curriculum supports, 3) Teacher has BA, 4) Specialized training in pre-K, 5) Assistant teacher has CDA or equivalent, 6) Staff professional development, 7) Class size 20 or lower, 8) Staff-child ratio 1:10 or better, 9) Vision, hearing, & health screening & referral, 10) Continuous quality improvement system.
  • Income Requirement for State Pre-K Eligibility: Full Weight (~10.00 Points)
  • Requirement of School Safety Plans & Audits: Double Weight (~20.00 Points)Note: This composite metric measures whether school safety plans or school safety audits are required in a state.
Resources & Economic Support – Total Points: 20
  • Total Reported Spending per Child Enrolled in Preschool: Double Weight (~5.00 Points)Note: Amount of all reported funds (local, state, and federal) spent per child participating in pre-K program.
  • Change in State Spending per Child Enrolled in Preschool (2016-17 to 2017-18): Triple Weight (~7.50 Points)
  • Total State Head Start Program Spending per Child Enrolled in Preschool: Double Weight (~5.00 Points)
  • Monthly Child Care Co-Payment Fees as Share of Family Income: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)Note: Parent co-payments for a family of three with an income at 100 percent of poverty and one child in care.

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Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the National Institute for Early Education Research, Education Commission of the States and The National Women’s Law Center.

Image: Oksana Kuzmina / Shutterstock.com

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