The federal government invests billions of dollars each year in programs designed to provide early care and education to children under the age of 5.

Like most states, New Jersey uses every dollar that flows in. But a new report finds that when it comes to how the funds are used, New Jersey is one of the worst states in the country.

"For many parents, it's a daily struggle to find early care and education," said Linda Smith with the Washgington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center, which analyzed how each state utilizes federal funds. "When they're confronted by multiple programs and multiple locations with different requirements, it gets very confusing and oftentimes they give up."

Nine funding streams were analyzed by the organization. The research found that, in New Jersey, the nine programs are handled by four different agencies.

"In some of the better states, the top-scoring states, all of these programs are in two agencies," Smith said. "It just stands to reason that the coordination becomes difficult when you've got four different agencies administering the programs."

Taking this finding into account, and awarding the state a few bonus points for spending a considerable amount of money on pre-K, New Jersey was ranked 37th among the states.

For all but one federal program, Smith said, states' governors have wide discretion with regard to the coordination of these funds.

The organization's view is that navigating a patchwork system of programs can make finding and affording early care and education a nightmare for families — many of whom may be losing a day's pay in order to do so.

The report made recommendations for "struggling states." Smith said the governor should appoint an independent body to look at the administration of these programs and think about how the funds can be managed more effectively.

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