Universal pre-K, which is widely accepted to be one of the best ways to improve student performance in the long term, has been in the news a lot these days, thanks to NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s signature policy proposal to tax wealthy city residents to pay for the program for every student in the five boroughs.

Establishing full day pre-K was chief among the proposals released last December by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission. Cuomo subsequently included $75 million in the 2013-14 budget for education reform initiatives – including about $25 million for the expansion of pre-K – with the money to be awarded through a competitive process.

The allocation of this money has been slow in coming, in part because only a fraction of the districts eligible for the cash have applied.

Now education advocates are talking about building on the momentum of de Blasio’s victory and pushing the governor and Legislature to expand pre-K statewide. The Citizens Budget Commission has estimated it would cost $4 billion to achieve that goal, which is $2 billion more than the entire surplus Cuomo has said he expects the state will see at the end of the current fiscal year if spending controls continue. (And he wants to use at least some of that for tax cuts).

Advocates and elected officials have been trying to expand pre-K for decades. But despite all the talk, state spending on this important program has actually gone down instead of up.

That’s according to a report conducted by Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research, whcih found 28 percent of America’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded pre-school program in the 2011-2012 school year – about the same percentage as the year before. That stagnation was compunded by an unprecedented drop in funding of $500 million nationwide – the largest one-year drop in history.

The NIEE found that New York spent $5,306 per child enrolled in pre-K in 2002, but that figure plummeted to $3,707 in 2012.

There were 102,568  New York children enrolled in the 2011-2012 school year, representing approximately 44 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds – a decrease of approximately 1,000 students from the previous year. Approximately 75 percent of those kids attend half-day programs.

The good news for New York was that despite its drop in the number of students attending pre-K, it maintained its national ranking of 9th overall in terms of enrollment. And despite its flat funding, that state’s ranking improved from 24th in the nation to 21st in the nation in the per-child spending category, although in 2002, New York was 11th overall for resources per child.

The report did note the $25 million for pre-K included in the 2013-14 budget, which would allow for more full and half-day K slots across the state.

NIEER report on pre-K in NY. by liz_benjamin6490