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Biggest drop ever in preschool funds

WASHINGTON — State funding for prekindergarten programs had its largest drop ever last year and states are now spending less per child than they did a decade ago, according to a report being released Monday.

The report also found that more than a half million of those preschool students are in programs that don’t even meet standards suggested by industry experts that would qualify for federal dollars.

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Those findings, combined with Congress’ reluctance to spend new dollars, complicate President Obama’s effort to expand prekindergarten programs across the country.

While Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius continue to promote the president’s proposal, researchers say existing programs are inadequate, and until their shortcomings are fixed there is little desire by lawmakers to get behind Obama’s call for more preschool.

‘‘The state of preschool was a state of emergency,’’ said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, which produced the report.

During his State of the Union speech, Obama proposed a federal-state partnership that would dramatically expand options for families with young children. His plan would fund public preschool for any 4-year-old whose family income was below twice the federal poverty rate.

Duncan and Sebelius planned to join the researchers on Monday at a news conference to introduce the report.

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