2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (2023)

While good elementary schools, high schools and colleges are important factors for parents to consider when choosing where to settle down, the availability of quality pre-K education is just as crucial. Unfortunately, pre-school enrollment dropped by nearly 300,000 students during the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which experts say erased a decade of progress and increased educational inequality. The good news is that the distribution of the vaccine has made the school environment safer to return to, as it is available to children as young as six months old now.

Children enrolled in early education programs are more likely to be academically prepared for future grades, as well as have higher graduation rates and higher earning potential than those who are not enrolled, according to the National Education Association. In addition, those who attend pre-K programs have been shown to have less risk of future crime than those who do not. Plus, one estimate shows that every dollar invested in early education programs for disadvantaged families may generate $7.30 in economic benefits due to its impact on helping children grow up to be healthier, higher-earning adults.

To help parents find the states with the best early education systems, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 12 key metrics, including share of school districts that offer a state pre-K program, number of pre-K quality benchmarks met and total reported spending per child enrolled in pre-K.

Table of Contents

Main FindingsAsk the ExpertsMethodology

Main Findings

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States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems

Overall Rank


Total Score



Resources & Economic Support

4District of Columbia68.0011926
5Rhode Island63.452762
9West Virginia60.888835
10New Mexico58.457374
11New Jersey55.8115253
15South Carolina53.34161432
35North Carolina42.5247937
43South Dakota38.79342641
44New York37.88414417
47New Hampshire35.49372651
50North Dakota29.23305148

Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that state, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (1)

Share of 3- and 4-year-olds Enrolled in Pre-K, Pre-K Special Education and Head Start

(Video) 2022’s States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (3)

Income Requirement for State Pre-K Eligibility


  • 1. North Carolina
  • 2. Connecticut
  • T-3. Nevada
  • T-3. Arizona
  • T-3. Arkansas
  • T-3. Ohio

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (4)


(Video) The best, worst states in America for early education in 2022

  • T-30. Alabama
  • T-30. Oklahoma
  • T-30. New Mexico
  • T-30. Alaska
  • T-30. Vermont
  • T-30. District of Columbia

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (5)

Total Reported Spending per Child Enrolled in Preschool


  • T-1. District of Columbia
  • T-1. New Jersey
  • T-1. Hawaii
  • T-1. Oregon
  • 5. Maryland

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (6)

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (7)

Total State Head Start Program Spending per Child Enrolled in Preschool


  • T-1. Oregon
  • T-1. Alaska
  • 3. Pennsylvania
  • 4. Minnesota
  • 5. Rhode Island

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (8)

(Video) 2020's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems


  • T-12. Tennessee
  • T-12. New Jersey
  • T-12. Arizona
  • T-12. Arkansas
  • T-12. North Dakota
  • T-12. California

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (9)

Monthly Child Care Co-Payment Fees as a Percent of Family Income


  • T-1. New York
  • T-1. Alaska
  • T-1. Oklahoma
  • T-1. California
  • T-1. Oregon
  • T-1. Iowa

2022's States with the Best & Worst Early Education Systems (10)


  • T-46. New Hampshire
  • T-46. Pennsylvania
  • T-48. Kentucky
  • T-48. Texas
  • 50. North Carolina
  • 51. Hawaii

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Ask the Experts

Giving a child a good early education is something that can benefit them for their entire career as a student. For more insight into this vital developmental step, we consulted a panel of experts. Click on the experts below to read their bios and thoughts on the following key questions:

  1. What are the most important factors that influence a child’s educational development?
  2. Is education spending a direct measure of education quality?
  3. What can state and local policymakers do to improve their school systems without raising taxes?
  4. In evaluating the best and worst early education systems, what are the top 5 indicators?

Ask the Experts

Arthur Reynolds
Co-Director, Human Capital Research Collaborative, University of Minnesota
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Martin Storksdieck
Ph.D. – Director of Oregon State University STEM Research Center, Professor Oregon State University College of Education
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Chris Brownell
Ph.D. – Adjunct Faculty, School of Education – Fresno Pacific University
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Nicole Nguyen
Associate Professor of Social Foundations of Education, Educational Policy Studies, College of Education – University of Illinois Chicago
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Amanda Harrist and Clarissa Corkins
Amanda Harrist, Ph.D. – Professor, Human Development & Family Science, Oklahoma State University in collaboration with Clarissa Corkins, M.S. – Society for Research in Child Development U.S. State Policy Predoctoral Fellow, Oklahoma State Department of Education, Early Childhood Division
Read More

Whitney A. Idol
Ph.D. – Assistant Professor, School of Teacher Education and Leadership, Radford University
Read More

(Video) 2022’s States with the Best & Worst Community College Systems


In order to determine the best and worst states for early education systems, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three key dimensions, “Access,” “Quality” and “Resources & Economic Support.”

We evaluated those dimensions using 12 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest quality of early education.

Finally, we determined each state and the District’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.

Access - Total Points: 40

  • Share of School Districts that Offer State Pre-K Program: Full Weight (~5.71 Points)
  • Share of 3- and 4-year-olds Enrolled in State Pre-K Program: Double Weight (~11.43 Points)
  • Share of 3- and 4-year-olds Enrolled in Pre-K, Pre-K Special Education and Head Start Programs: Full Weight (~5.71 Points)
  • Presence of Waiting Lists or Frozen Intake for Child Care Assistance: Double Weight (~11.43 Points)
    Note: Even if families are eligible for child care assistance, they may not necessarily receive it. Instead, their state may place eligible families on a waiting list or freeze intake (turn away eligible families without adding their names to a waiting list). Families may remain on the waiting list for a long time before receiving child care assistance, or may never receive it.
  • Pre-K Program Growth: Full Weight (~5.71 Points)

Quality - Total Points: 40

  • Pre-K Quality Benchmarks Met: Full Weight (~10.00 Points)
    Note: This metric considers the following benchmarks: 1) Early learning & development standards, 2) Curriculum supports, 3) Teacher has BA, 4) Specialized training in pre-K, 5) Assistant teacher has CDA or equivalent, 6) Staff professional development, 7) Class size 20 or lower, 8) Staff-child ratio 1:10 or better, 9) Vision, hearing, & health screening & referral, 10) Continuous quality improvement system.
  • Income Requirement for State Pre-K Eligibility: Full Weight (~10.00 Points)
  • Requirement of School Safety Plans & Audits: Double Weight (~20.00 Points)
    Note: This composite metric measures whether school safety plans or school safety audits are required in a state.

Resources & Economic Support - Total Points: 20

  • Total Reported Spending per Child Enrolled in Preschool: Double Weight (~5.00 Points)
    Note: Amount of all reported funds (local, state, and federal) spent per child participating in pre-K program.
  • Change in State Spending per Child Enrolled in Preschool (2018-19 to 2019-20): Triple Weight (~7.50 Points)
  • Total State Head Start Program Spending per Child Enrolled in Preschool: Double Weight (~5.00 Points)
  • Monthly Child Care Co-Payment Fees as Share of Family Income: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
    Note: Parent co-payments for a family of three with an income at 100 percent of poverty and one child in care.

Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the National Institute for Early Education Research, Education Commission of the States and The National Women’s Law Center.

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Which state has the best kindergarten? ›

New Jersey ranks first in the nation for this subcategory, as well as in the overall education category. Massachusetts places second, followed by Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. Learn more about the Best States for primary education below.

Where does the US rank in early childhood education? ›

The U.S ranks 28th among 38 OECD and G20 countries in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education, with a 69% enrolment rate (Chart C2. 1; Table C2. 1). It ranks 6th among 34 OECD and G20 countries in terms of annual expenditure per pupil at this level (USD 8 396; OECD average USD 6 670) (Table B1.

What is meant by early childhood? ›

Early childhood comprises a number of life stages, marked by developmental milestones. Here, we define early childhood as the period from birth to age eight, although we also recognize the importance of quality prenatal care in early childhood outcomes.

What is early intervention called in California? ›

The Early Start program is California's early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Early Start services are available statewide and are provided in a coordinated, family-centered system.

What is the early start report used for? ›

Early Start Part C Annual Performance Reports

This report provides the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) with a progress report of the State's Early Start Program as measured against the established targets for each of the indicators listed in its State Performance Plan (SPP).

What US state is lowest in education? ›

West Virginia is the least educated U.S. state, with an overall score of 23.65. West Virginia ranks last for Educational Attainment with the lowest shares of people with associate degrees or some college experience and those with Bachelor's degrees, at 20.6%.

What state is number 1 in education? ›

1. Massachusetts. Massachusetts has the best public school system in the U.S. 48.8% of Massachusetts's eligible schools ranked in the top 25% of high school rankings, a total of 167 schools. Massachusetts has the highest math and reading test scores in the U.S. and the second-highest median ACT score of 25.1.

What state has the best grade schools? ›

Public School Ranking by State
Overall RankStateTotal Score
3New Jersey64.05
47 more rows
25 Jul 2022

Which country has the best early childhood education? ›

Finland, Sweden and Norway top the Index, thanks to sustained, long-term investments and prioritisation of early childhood development, which is now deeply embedded in society. In general, Europe's state-led systems perform well, as the provision of universal preschool has steadily become a societal norm.

Which state ranks 50th in education? ›

New Mexico was ranked 50th for pre-k to 12th grade and 29th for higher education.

Who has the best education system in the world? ›

The expenses and equity vary

For instance, Finland, which has the best schooling system globally, offers students free education and free meals from primary to high-school level. In Denmark, there are no educational dues until the students turn 16 years of age.

What is the main purpose of early childhood education? ›

What is the purpose of early childhood education? Simply put, the purpose of ECE is to provide children with strategies that help them develop the emotional, social and cognitive skills needed to become lifelong learners.

Why is early education important? ›

In terms of human development, the importance of early childhood education can't be overstated. A child's early years are the foundation for his or her future development, providing a strong base for lifelong learning and learning abilities, including cognitive and social development.

What are the benefits of early childhood education? ›

High quality early childhood education gives children the best start in life. It provides important opportunities to learn and develop. Early childhood education can help your child make friends, develop independence and learn new routines. It also supports their transition to school.

Does early intervention mean autism? ›

Early intervention typically follows an autism diagnosis, so its start depends on the age of diagnosis. In the United States, most children are diagnosed after age 4. It may be possible, and preferable, to start treatment even earlier in some cases.

What is an example of early intervention? ›

Is the term used to describe the services and supports that are available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families. May include speech therapy, physical therapy, and other types of services based on the needs of the child and family.

Why is early intervention important? ›

Early intervention services can change a child's developmental path and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. Help your child, help your family! Families benefit from early intervention by being able to better meet their children's needs from an early age and throughout their lives.

What is an early start assessment? ›

Early Start assessments can help determine whether a child has a developmental delay and whether they are in need of early intervention services.

What are regional centers in California? ›

Regional centers are nonprofit private corporations that have offices throughout California to provide a local resource to help find and access the many services available to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

What is CSU early start? ›

ESW 1 is 1-unit, one-week course in writing that serves as an introduction to the university. Students in the class will also begin to develop college-level literacy skills and habits of mind. For course options, please visit Summer Schedule of Classes.

Which state has the poorest education? ›

Overall, 89.3% of Americans over the age of 25 had graduated from high school in 2021, with the highest level found in the state of Vermont at 94.5% and the lowest in the state of California at 84.4%. In Puerto Rico, the proportion was even lower, though, at 79.6%.

What is the least educated city in America? ›

When it comes to the bottom of the list, Visalia, California, is the least educated city in the U.S. Brownsville, Texas, was No. 149, followed by McAllen, Texas, Bakersfield, California and Modesto, California.

What is the smartest state? ›

The smartest states in the U.S. are located in the Northeast, Midwest, and West.
Here are the 10 states with the highest average IQ:
  • New Hampshire - 103.2.
  • Massachusetts - 103.1.
  • Minnesota - 102.9.
  • Vermont - 102.2.
  • North Dakota - 101.7.
  • Wyoming - 101.7.
  • Utah - 101.5.
  • Washington - 101.5.

What is the #1 high school in the US? ›

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

What is the best state to live in USA 2022? ›

According to the report, the best state to live in the U.S. is Massachusetts. That isn't the only northern state to appear near the top of the rankings. New Jersey, New York, Idaho, New Hampshire, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all made the top 10.

Which state has the best high schools? ›

Massachusetts tops all other states with the highest percentage of top-ranked public high schools. April 25, 2022, at 9:00 p.m. A breakdown by state of the 2022 U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools rankings shows that Massachusetts is once again the leading performer.

What is the best school in the USA? ›

Here are the best colleges in the U.S.
  • Princeton University.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Harvard University.
  • Stanford University.
  • Yale University.
  • University of Chicago.
  • Johns Hopkins University.
  • University of Pennsylvania.

Which country has the best education system 2022? ›

Top 10 countries in the world with the best education system in 2022
  • Germany.
  • Canada.
  • France.
  • Australia.
  • Switzerland.
  • Japan.
  • Sweden.
  • Netherlands.
4 Feb 2022

Which city is best for children education? ›

Top 9 Cities for Education in India
  1. Bangalore. The capital city of Karnataka, Bangalore is regarded as the best city for education in India. ...
  2. Pune. Over the past few years, Pune has become a popular city when it comes to providing the best education in the country. ...
  3. Mumbai. ...
  4. New Delhi. ...
  5. Chennai. ...
  6. Kanpur. ...
  7. Hyderabad. ...
  8. Manipal.
18 Jan 2021

Which education is best for children? ›

The best kind of education for your child
  • Montessori. Montessori is a method of education that focuses on child-centered learning which involves self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. ...
  • Traditional Public School. ...
  • Charter School. ...
  • Magnet School. ...
  • Special Education School. ...
  • Home School.

Which country is good for kids? ›

UNICEF ranked best countries across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) based on their national family-friendly policies: Sweden. Norway. Iceland.

Who is number 1 in education in the world? ›

Education in France is based on a national curriculum and is compulsory beginning at age 3 through age 16.
  • United States. #1 in Education Rankings. ...
  • United Kingdom. #2 in Education Rankings. ...
  • Germany. #3 in Education Rankings. ...
  • Canada. ...
  • France. ...
  • Switzerland. ...
  • Japan. ...
  • Sweden.

Which state has the hardest standardized test? ›

New York tops list of states with most difficult tests.

Where does each state rank in education? ›

State Rankings
StateAcademic Performance RankOverall Rank
District of Columbia3817
47 more rows
7 Jan 2022

Which country has the most difficult education system? ›

Which country has toughest education?
  • South Korea.
  • Japan.
  • Singapore.
  • Hong Kong.
  • Finland.

What is good education system? ›

A successful system clearly defines, in measurable terms, expectations for what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in school, in the workplace and in life. A successful system aligns and focuses its policies and programs on student achievement of high academic standards.

Which country is the most educated? ›

  • Switzerland. #1 in Educated population. #1 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Japan. #2 in Educated population. ...
  • Sweden. #3 in Educated population. ...
  • Germany. #4 in Educated population. ...
  • United Kingdom. #5 in Educated population. ...
  • Denmark. #6 in Educated population. ...
  • Norway. #7 in Educated population. ...
  • Finland. #8 in Educated population.

What are three challenges facing early childhood education? ›

Current Issues in Early Childhood Education 2021
  • The Pandemic Plunge. ...
  • Long Hours and No Sick Days. ...
  • Declining Mental Health. ...
  • Online Teaching. ...
  • Low Pay. ...
  • Lack of Resources. ...
  • Burnout.
31 Aug 2022

What is the most important aspect of early childhood education? ›

It aims at the holistic development of a child's social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. ECCE has the possibility to nurture caring, capable and responsible future citizens.”

What are core values in early childhood education? ›

Core Values

Recognize that children are best understood and supported in the context of family, culture, community, and society. Respect the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual (child, family member, and colleague). Respect diversity in children, families, and colleagues.

How does early education affect child development? ›

These studies show that quality early childhood development and education programs can play a key role in reducing risky health behaviors and preventing or delaying the onset of chronic disease in adulthood. Early childhood development and education are key determinants of future health and well-being.

Does early childhood education make a difference? ›

Researchers have found that parents whose children attend programs that are integrated into their school are much less anxious than their neighbours whose kids are in the regular jumbled system. Direct gains have also been documented for children.

Why investing in early childhood education is a benefit to the economy? ›

Public investment in ECE would help California improve the productivity of working parents throughout the economy. By expanding the overall supply of high-quality ECE, California can help businesses improve worker productivity and reduce child care-related turnover.

Is early intervention free in PA? ›

Early Intervention services are provided at no cost to families.

Which agency in California is the lead for early intervention services? ›

The California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is the lead agency for Early Start in collaboration with the California Department of Education (CDE).

What are the 6 components of the early intervention process? ›

Steps in the Early Intervention Process
  • Identification or Referral. Parents may refer their children for EI, or a professional (i.e. a pediatrician) may identify them as requiring services through Child Find. ...
  • Parental Consent. ...
  • Assessment. ...
  • Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) ...
  • IFSP Review. ...
  • Transition.

Who qualifies as having a developmental delay in Pennsylvania? ›

In Pennsylvania, a child has a developmental delay if he or she is 25% or more behind peers of the same age in at least one area or 1.5 standard deviations below the mean on appropriate standardized tests.

Does early intervention help with behavior? ›

Intervention is likely to be more effective when it is provided earlier in life rather than later. The connections in a baby's brain are most adaptable in the first three years of life. These connections, also called neural circuits, are the foundation for learning, behavior, and health.

What is an example of early intervention? ›

Is the term used to describe the services and supports that are available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families. May include speech therapy, physical therapy, and other types of services based on the needs of the child and family.

What is the PEI program? ›

The intent of Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) programs is to move to a “help first” system in order to engage individuals before the development of serious mental illness or serious emotional disturbance or to alleviate the need for additional or extended mental health treatment by facilitating access to ...

What is prevention and early intervention? ›

Prevention refers to strategies or programmes that prevent or delay the onset of health and behaviour problems, while early intervention refers to strategies and programmes that reduce the harms and health consequences of behaviours that have been initiated.


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