ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — State funded preschools saw a decrease of more than 2,000 enrolled students during the 2020-2021 school year, according to a recent study by the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

Executive Director of the Arkansas Early Childhood Association, Paul Lazenby, said early education is key to children’s development.

“Birth to five is the most critical period for brain development,” Lazenby said. “The brain doesn’t develop any faster than it does at this age.”

So, the decrease in children enrolled in state funded preschools means some kids are going without that crucial development experience.

During the pandemic, daycares and preschools have faced many challenges retaining that high quality education that young kids need. One of the biggest challenges is staffing.

Owner of Bright Beginnings Preschool in Siloam Springs Debbie Mays said she talks with other directors who say its tough getting and keeping teachers.

“Getting workers in to work in those rooms with the children and getting them to stay long enough that they can train them to give children a high quality environment,” Mays said.

Another challenge for early education during COVID-19 is parent involvement.

“In order to have decreased exposure, we did not have parents come into our facility and that was so hard for me because that’s how we model for parents,” Mays said.

Mays said she had to come up with new ways to communicate with parents to make sure they were involved with the learning process.

Lazenby said the the Early Childhood Association will continue to fight for state funding to help support early education for the coming years.