The District spent more on each of its preschool students than any state in the country last school year, according to a report released Monday.
Schools receive $14,938 for each pre-kindergarten student, including $13,974 from the District and $964 from the federal government, according to the report by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. The next highest spender, New Jersey, spent $11,659 per student.
Though the District's spending was a $638, or 4 percent, decrease per student over the 2010-2011 school year, it was still more than three times the national average of $3,841 per student.
Unlike any state and most cities, the District offers free public pre-kindergarten to all 3- and 4-year-old residents through a lottery system, with 11,267 enrolled. Last year, 92 percent of all 4-year-old residents and 69 percent of all 3-year-old residents enrolled in a District-funded preschool program, serving a higher portion of preschool-age students than any state, according to the report.
"The goal of our early childhood programs is to support children in the full range of developmental domains, so that they can reach their full potential in kindergarten and beyond," said DC Public Schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz. "If a child can't successfully climb the ladder on a slide, that same child will have difficulty holding a pencil and writing her name."
Maryland and Virginia, like many states, offer state-funded pre-kindergarten only to children from low-income families. Each state spent slightly less per preschool student than the national average last year. Neither has plans to change, state education officials said.
Charter schools serve almost half of the District's pre-kindergarten students, according to the NIEER report.
Though a few hundred pre-kindergarten students were on waiting lists at charter schools last year, more seats will become available soon, with two of the charter schools opening in the fall offering pre-kindergarten, according to Public Charter School Board spokeswoman Audrey Williams.
Urban areas like the District are more likely to offer universal preschool, said NIEER Director Steven Barnett.
"There is both higher demand and greater supply in urban areas," he said. The District also has a large low-income population and a large population whose first language is not English, both groups whose children benefit from the boost preschool provides.
Though some cities have near-universal access to preschool, Barnett added, "higher [participation than in] D.C. would be difficult."