State of Preschool 2023 Yearbook Report

State of Preschool 2023 Yearbook Report

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released the State of Preschool 2023 Yearbook. This annual report tracks preschool enrollment, funding, and quality across the United States. This year’s report highlights key findings on universal preschool and emerging trends nationwide.

Preschool Spending

The NIEER report provides important insights into preschool spending across the United States for the 2022-2023 school year. 

Spending on publicly funded preschool programs increased significantly in 2022-2023, in part because of the distribution of federal and state COVID-19 relief funds. In total, states spent $11.7 billion on preschool programs.  

On average, states individually spent $7,277 per child enrolled in preschool programs. When adding federal and local funds from COVID-19 relief dollars, the total average spending per child rose to $11,300. This indicates a growing investment in early childhood education.  

This is notable because while it is more than what states spent before the pandemic, there isn’t a marked difference in spending from 22 years ago (about $6,950 per child per year in 2002). 

Preschool Funding

Preschool funding remains a major policy issue for states to consider as they make choices about the future of early education. A key question for the future is whether states will increase funding enough to keep promises to expand programs and increase quality, including adequate pay for teachers. Is our country and our state at a turning point to make real progress towards high quality universal preschool? 

More States Adopting Universal Preschool

A growing number of states are moving toward a universal preschool model, aiming to provide publicly funded preschool education to all children. This shift recognizes the importance of early childhood education and seeks to ensure that all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, have access to high-quality preschool programs.  

As of the 2022-2023 school year there are 60 state funded preschool programs in 44 states and Washington, D.C.  

A Critical Moment for Preschool

States need to make strategic decisions about early childhood education and invest in high quality preschool programs that support whole-child development. Early learning investments are the most cost-effective way to close opportunity and achievement gaps, support families, and strengthen child care availability.  

Oregon continues to work on expanding access and improving the quality of preschool programs. While progress is being made, more is needed to make sure that all children have access to high quality early education, regardless of their zip code. 

Children’s Institute, community partners, and other early childhood advocates are calling for state policymakers to prioritize young children, not just in early education, but in housing and behavioral health, as essential pillars of Oregon’s early childhood ecosystem. Because when we center children across sectors, we create more equitable opportunities and brighter futures.  

The Power of Inclusive Classrooms at Gilbert Creek Development Center

The Power of Inclusive Classrooms at Gilbert Creek Development Center


In this episode, host Rafael Otto visits Grants Pass, Oregon, to talk with Shannon Bilbao and Susan Peck from Gilbert Creek Child Development Center. They discuss why inclusive classrooms are so valuable for the healthy development of all children and share examples of what they see in their classrooms.

“A benefit of an inclusive preschool is that children learn early about their friends needing more time to express their needs or how they can help. It becomes a natural part of their routine.” – Susan Peck


“Witnessing some of our children with disabilities interacting with their typically developing peers and just being part of the community, you realize they shouldn’t be as separate as it sometimes is. It is incredibly powerful to see them together forming friendships and their eyes lit up” – Shannon Bilbao.

They also discuss the growing needs among young children in the aftermath of COVID and two of the biggest obstacles to serving more children: appropriately trained staff and the physical space to serve children. A promising venture, however, with Highland Elementary aims to solve those two challenges with a new and growing partnership. Tune in and share!


More about The Early Link Podcast

The Early Link Podcast highlights national, regional, and local voices working in early childhood education and the nonprofit sector. The podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Rafael Otto, Children’s Institute’s director of communications.

Listen to more episodes of the Early Link Podcast here or stream on Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, TuneIn, and Apple Podcasts. 

A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum Report

A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum Report

Early childhood is a period of great developmental changes, setting the foundation for later learning and development.
– National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Decades of research have highlighted the significant benefits of high-quality preschool education. Yet, there remains a gap in understanding the effectiveness of preschool curricula, particularly for children who are historically (and currently) underserved. In the United States, preschool programs vary widely, with curriculum being essential in creating joyful and affirming early learning environments. Even with efforts to provide supportive settings, current preschool curricula often fall short in enhancing children’s math, early literacy, and science skills, and fail to adequately support multilingual learners’ emerging bilingualism.

What's in the report?

The report outlines and emphasizes key recommendations, focusing on equity and justice-focused principles in shaping new preschool curricula development. It underscores the value of acknowledging and celebrating each child’s unique identities and strengths to fully unleash the potential of preschool education.

How can we improve the preschool landscape?

The early childhood system is complex, with diverse program offerings resulting in very different preschool experiences for children. Those furthest from opportunities often face barriers to accessing high-quality learning opportunities. When accessible, these children are frequently enrolled in underfunded programs with lower-quality instruction.

Preschool curriculum plays a key role in shaping the quality of instruction, classroom environment, and early childhood development. It outlines children’s learning objectives, uses intentional teaching methods, and determines necessary educational resources.

Research indicates that well-implemented preschool curricula can significantly reduce disparities in math, language, literacy, and social-emotional skills among children entering kindergarten. These disparities, especially for Black and Latine children and economically disadvantaged children, underscore the urgent need for effective preschool education. However, many studies focus solely on English-speaking children, overlooking the linguistic strength and potential of multilingual learners.

What should a high-quality preschool curriculum include?

High-quality preschool curricula should ensure that children have access to diverse learning experiences, offer engaging content to spark their curiosity and excitement for learning. It should also include adaptable teaching methods that cater to their strengths and individual needs.

Research indicates that a high-quality preschool curriculum should:

    • Integrate diverse perspectives, experiences, cultures, languages, strengths, and needs of children, families, and workforce settings.
    • Focus on engaging children and promoting their agency through meaningful content.
    • Create and implement well-designed learning experiences with clear objectives, responsive teaching strategies, ongoing assessments, and personalized support based on children’s abilities, backgrounds, interests, and dispositions.
    • Align curriculum with children’s learning processes and proven research methods, affirm children’s cultural and linguistic identities, and provide effective support for children with disabilities.
    • Demonstrate measurable benefits in both school performance and overall life outcomes for children and families served.

Looking forward

Recommendations for advancing the vision
  • Equity-driven preschool curricula: Guidance for content design, development, selection, and implementation
  • Empowering educators: Supports and professional development for equitable and effective curriculum implementation
  • Investing in equity: Funding mechanisms, policy strategies, and innovations to support selection and implementation of effective preschool curricula
  • Bridging the knowledge gap: Creating an evidence base to advance curriculum development and implementation
Priorities for the future

Although we have ample evidence of the positive effects of high-quality preschool, there is limited understanding of the impact and effectiveness of the curriculum.

This report recommends a comprehensive research plan to gather evidence on preschool curricula, standardize evaluation methods, and conduct large-scale studies involving multiple research teams.

While high-quality curricula alone cannot address all early education challenges, they play a vital role in improving the quality of children’s classroom experience. High-quality preschool curricula facilitate equitable, safe, healthy, affirming, and enriching learning environments, supporting children’s success in school and beyond.

This report was long overdue, and I am hopeful and excited about what more is to come in terms of implementing the recommendations. I hope that the federal government, philanthropists, and states will find ways to ensure that we advance preschool curriculum to meet the needs of our youngest learners.
– Marina Merrill, Director of Research & Strategy, Children’s Institute

Early School Success Partners Celebrate Accomplishments at Spring Event

Early School Success Partners Celebrate Accomplishments at Spring Event

The pitter-patter of spring showers gave way to a steady hum of anticipation as Early School Success (ESS) school districts spent the day celebrating collective achievements, reflecting on triumphs and challenges, and envisioning the future of ESS in their school communities, on May 2 at Willamette ESD in Salem, OR.



Throughout the day, participants engaged in a series of hands-on activities designed to both encourage thoughtful conversation among colleagues, and simulate practices that they have implemented in their classrooms. For example, loose parts is an approach to play, based on the idea that when children are given a collection of objects (think pipe cleaners, beads, and buttons) they have more opportunity for engagement and creativity, as they tinker with an array of objects.

Additional stations included watercolors, clay, and musical instruments, with each medium becoming a canvas for self-expression and allowing educators to engage in their own play-based learning.

As attendees thought about their experiences from the past year and built their creations, every design represented their evolving perspectives and aspirations. From embracing multilingualism to fostering inclusive classrooms, each piece of art spoke to the group’s collective vision for student-centered learning.


Starla Nelson, principal at Oceanlake, shared that having different materials at the loose parts stations provided freedom of choice and expression.

“Similarly, having a variety of sensory materials in the classrooms can create empowered learning environments for the students,” she said.

Educators also spoke passionately about the positive impact of implementing change ideas in their classrooms. One educator shared that previously reluctant learners in the classroom found a voice and actively collaborated in group activities by using tangible objects to articulate their thoughts.

As the day continued, facilitators guided teams through exercises that emphasized building trust. Participants explored what it means to be student-centered and shared insights and ideas.

“I loved reflecting on the triad of trust. I made connections, learned new ideas, and gained new perspectives,” shared one participant.

Later in the day, teams completed a “dreamspace” activity, which included a lively discussion about the future of Early School Success. Educators also articulated a shared vision grounded in empathy and equity through collaborative brainstorming.



As the day concluded, participants expressed their appreciation through a final activity that embodied the spirit of teamwork and celebrating collective success.

Talisa Timms, continuous improvement specialist at Children’s Institute and one of the event facilitators, shared that she was honored to lead Early School Success teams through a day of reflection, dreaming, and planning.

“I am always in awe of how deeply committed school teams are to improving outcomes and shifting systems for kids, families, and their communities,’ Timms said.


Ultimately, the Early School Success spring cross-network meeting was more than just a gathering – it was a celebration of the unwavering dedication of educators who are committed to shaping a brighter future for students, families, and communities. And as participants departed, their hearts and minds brimming with inspiration, they carried with them seeds of change, ready to bloom and flourish in the days ahead.



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Looking Back, Moving Forward: Early School Success Academy’s Year in Review

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Early School Success Academy’s Year in Review

Exciting news! Children’s Institute’s Early Learning Academy is now the Early School Success Academy (ESS Academy).

The name has changed, but everything else remains the same. The ESS Academy will continue its mission to empower educators in strengthening early learning, from preschool to third grade in their communities through a team-based learning experience. 

Read on to take a look back with us as we reflect on the 2023-2024 ESS Academy, and discover why this learning opportunity is too good to miss!


A room of people coming together for legislative meetings.

As always, the ESS Academy offers educators, administrators, and other school staff a chance to come together, learn, and collaborate to strengthen educational systems for children in Oregon.

Last year, nine school districts joined us for a series of engaging sessions and personalized coaching. Partner districts in attendance included Centennial, Columbia Gorge ESD, Wallowa ESD, Eugene 4J, Grants Pass, Gresham-Barlow, Hillsboro, South Lane, and Yoncalla school districts. Teams comprised of preschool through second-grade educators, instructional coaches, elementary principals, and district early learning leaders.


Three women working in early childhood advocacy, including Elena and Andi from CI's Policy team.

Designed as a hub for networking and shared growth, t
he ESS Academy fosters collaboration and shared learning among school communities and this year’s cohort was committed to strengthening their own practices, with support from their colleagues from other areas of the state. The 2023-2024 Academy began with a full-day session centered on integrating diverse perspectives into change planning. Teams aligned their efforts with continuous improvement principles and crafted actionable strategies tailored to their unique school environments, in subsequent sessions.


Central to this collaborative journey were our valued culturally specific community partners – Adelante Mujeres, Center for African Immigrants and Refugees (CAIRO), Youth Organized and United to Help (Y.O.U.T.H), and Strength-based Prevention, Intervention & Resilience Informing Teaching Strategies (S.P.I.R.I.T.S). They
facilitated critical dialogues on topics such as kindergarten readiness; power to motivate, inspire, empower; and why it is important to engage in the cultural strengths within our communities.

Reflecting on their experiences, participants expressed newfound clarity and optimism.

“I used to think our work was too big to be impactful right away, and now I see a path forward with an impactful and meaningful starting place,” said one participant.

Another noted the power of partnership in driving systemic change.

“I used to think that our K-12 system had to figure it out alone. Now, I think we must do it in partnership with a very wide network of stakeholders,” they said.

Facilitated entirely online to accommodate educators’ diverse schedules, the ESS Academy offers a professional learning experience like no other. Participants echoed a resounding appreciation for the program’s unique blend of guided facilitation and dedicated team time within the sessions, where the focused collaboration and connection with other districts enriched their progress. 

Looking ahead, the
ESS Academy invites school teams to join a dynamic statewide network of educators committed to strengthening early learning in their school communities. Educators gain access to rich content, expert thought partnerships, coaching, resources, and membership to our exclusive change library by participating.


Curious to learn more? Contact our Professional Learning Specialist, Shawnté Hines, at and join the Early School Success Academy 2024-2025!