NEW JERSEY 101.5

A new report finds New Jersey leads the nation in preschool attendance among young children, but there are still tens of thousands of kids who lack access to a solid early education.

More than 130,000 New Jersey children (62 percent) were enrolled in preschool in 2011, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, compared to 46 percent on a countrywide level.

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New Jersey, for years, has been providing high-quality, state-funded preschool to children living in dozens of the poorest districts, and the preschools have been proven to improve children's chances for school success. However, according to Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), a 2008 mandate that New Jersey expand its reach has not been followed yet.

"It's disheartening to know that had this law been funded, 30,000 more kids would be in preschool, but they're not there now," said Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ Executive Director, noting the 2008 law was intended to provide high-quality preschool to an estimated 90 additional districts in New Jersey.

Given the report's findings, ACNJ called for a $10 million down payment to improve New Jersey's preschool education model.

"As state departments begin building their budgets, we urge the Legislature and Governor to view this as a critical investment in our children's education and the future of our state - an investment we can no longer afford to delay," Zalkind said.

Zalkind said preschool can help boost literacy, and without early literacy, children are more likely to fail in school.

"We have been ahead of the rest of the country for years in terms of the quality of our preschool programs, but the rest of the country is now waking up to how important preschool is," Zalkind added. "And we're still staying in place. It's time for us to move forward."