Preschool Program Funding for Children with Disabilities in Decline

by Vins
Published: Updated:

From 2002 to 2015, federal funding for preschool children with disabilities decreased from $390 million to $353 million per year, according to an article published in the Hechinger Report.

Developmental preschool programs, which serve children between the ages of three and five, have been shown to prepare many students with disabilities to enter kindergarten “without the need for any special education services, or needing only services to improve speech,” Jackie Mader reported. Nevertheless, while the number of children served by developmental preschool programs more than doubled from the early 1990s to 2017, crucial federal funding for these programs has decreased by as much as forty percent per pupil.

Without adequate funding, many states will “struggle to offer a robust special education preschool program and services,” Mader wrote, with the consequence that preschoolers who could benefit from a head start in school are “missing out and losing valuable time to catch up with their peers.”

Mader’s report spotlights the experience of Lindsey Eakin in Arizona.  Eakin is the mother of a boy with childhood apraxia of speech, a speech disorder that can lead to a delayed or limited ability to make sounds or form words. After finding a preschool program that could provide her son with speech therapy, Eakin was astonished to see that he went from “not talking to full blown sentences.”

Research confirms the effectiveness of developmental preschool programs. One 2014 study found that more than 75 percent of children who participated in federally-funded special education preschool programs showed “greater than expected growth in knowledge and skills, social relationships and taking action to meet needs.” And a 2016 report found that, in nearly every state, at least seventy percent of preschoolers enrolled in special education programs showed substantially increased rates of growth in positive social-emotional skills.

However, as Mader reported, the programs that made such a difference for Eakin’s son are not necessarily available in all school districts, due to lack of funding. When federal funds are lacking, special education programs must be subsidized by state funds and local sources, but these vary widely by state and district.

“We know ‘wait and see’ doesn’t work,” Amanda Morin, an expert at Understood, a nonprofit that gives parents resources and information about learning and attention issues, told the Hechinger Report. “So kids who are not getting services at younger ages will most likely need services when they get into school.”

As of January 2020, no major news investigations appear to have discussed the decrease in federal funding for developmental preschool programs.

Source: Jackie Mader, “Preschool for Children with Disabilities Works, but Federal Funding for It Is Plummeting,” Hechinger Report, July 10, 2019,; reposted as “Federal Funding of Preschool for Children with Disabilities Is Plummeting,” Truthout, August 6, 2019,

Student Researcher: Stephanie Lane (Saginaw Valley State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Emily J. Beard-Bohn (Saginaw Valley State University)