STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WTAJ) — New data shows drops in preschool enrollment, quality and funding throughout the state.

During the 2020-2021 school year over 8,000 fewer children enrolled in state-funded Pre-K programs in Pennsylvania.

“This decline in enrollment is unprecedented. It’s the first year in two decades that we saw any decline at all,” said Steve Barnett, Co-Director and Founder of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, a drop from approximately 48,750 to 40,560 children enrolled in these programs was found.

Barnett said this decline is affecting children who don’t receive education until kindergarten.

“Teachers tell us, you know, children don’t know how to hold a crayon,” Barnett said. “Don’t know how to use scissors. Don’t know how to pay attention to what the teacher wants them to pay attention to.”

Pennsylvania’s overall funding for Pre-K programs declined by about $22,000,000.

“More than half of the children in Pennsylvania are eligible, but far fewer are actually served. And the only reason for that is lack of funding,” Barnett said.

In State College, The Learning Station offers a state-funded Pre-K Counts program.

While their numbers are increasing since COVID mandates began to ease, Director Linda Mussi said funding is holding The Learning Station back from taking on more students.

“We’re not getting teachers where we would have gotten them a few years ago, as far as pay is concerned,” Mussi said. “Wal-Mart offers $17 an hour plus a sign on bonus, and we can’t compete with that.”

With more funding, Mussi says more children can be given the opportunity to learn.

“The research supports, zero to five, 90% of all learning occurs,” Mussi said. “So, the earlier we start children in, I don’t want to say an academic environment but an intentional environment, we know what the outcomes will be.”

The NIEER does not have completed research for the current school year yet. Barnett anticipates an increase similar to what The Learning Station is experiencing now.