The expansion in public prekindergarten programs has slowed and even been reversed in some states as school districts cope with shrinking budgets.
As a result, lots of preschoolers aren't going to school to learn their ABCs.
Kids from low-income families who start kindergarten without attending a quality preschool enter school about 18 months behind peers. Many never catch up, and research shows they are more likely to need special education services and to drop out.
Yet, roughly a quarter of the nation's 4-year-olds and more than half of 3-year-olds attend no preschool.
Steven Barnett is director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. He says as more families fall into poverty, they are finding that public prekindergarten slots aren't available.
Earlier this year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a budget that cut funding for N.C. Pre-K, the state's educational program for at-risk 4-year-olds, by 20 percent, or $32 million. Statewide, it equates to 6,300 fewer spots.