Over the last 140 years, Southern states have made significant progress in catching up with the nation in education and income, but in recent decades the South’s gains have virtually flattened as the world economy continues to elevate the critical role of education in innovation, productivity and income. Today, most Southern states remain where they were in the early 1980s, closer to the national average than they were decades ago, but still at or near the bottom of the nation’s major rankings in education, income and well-being.
There is an all-important exception to this pattern of Southern underperformance: high-quality, early childhood education – pre-kindergarten (Pre-K). Several Southern states have become the nation’s leaders in Pre-K over the last 10 years. As a result, the South in 2007 leads the nation in offering state-funded Pre-K to three- and four-year-old children:
19% of three- and four-year-olds in the South are in state-funded Pre-K, more than double the rate in non-South states.