Giving Compass' Take:

• Developmental preschools are working for preschoolers with disabilities, but federal funding is, unfortunately, decreasing for these programs. 

• How are development preschools crucial to early childhood care and education for those with disabilities? 

• Read about the potential of a preschool development grant program. 

Dysart Unified’s preschool program for students with disabilities, which is offered at each of its elementary schools and staffed with teams of teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals, has become a model for Arizona. It’s the kind of inclusive, widespread program that experts say is ideal for young children with disabilities and can lead to impressive outcomes. Some children do so well in these programs they no longer need special education services by the time they enter school.

But comprehensive programs like the one in Dysart are a rarity, especially in a state where public pre-K is not yet widely available for all students, let alone children with disabilities. In 2016, Arizona offered public preschool to only 4 percent of its 4-year-olds and 2 percent of 3-year-olds. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every state in the country is required to offer, at a minimum, services like speech or occupational therapy for preschool students with disabilities, beginning at age 3. But the local school districts that must provide the programs are receiving fewer federal dollars: Federal funding to support these efforts has been declining steadily for decades.

The government’s overall appropriation of funds for special education preschool programs has varied by year, but generally decreased between 2002 and 2015, from $390 million to $353 million, before getting a slight bump to about $368 million in 2016 and 2017. At the same time, the number of children served by the programs more than doubled from the early 1990s to 2017, when 753,000children ages 3 to 5 were served.

The growth in enrollment without adequate federal funding means per pupil spending has decreased sharply, by 40 percent per child from 1994 to 2014. Without funds, states may struggle to offer a robust special education preschool program and services, which means kids who could greatly benefit from having a head start in school are missing out and losing valuable time to catch up with their peers.

Read the full article about state funding for preschoolers with disabilities by Jackie Mader at The Hechinger Report.