Fact Sheet

Early Learning in the United States: 2017

By preparing children for school and enabling parents to work, high-quality child care and preschool are a necessity for children, families, and the economy. These fact sheets explore the status of early learning programs in states and the need for state investment in these programs.

Part of a Series
Children climb in the playground at a preschool in Hinesburg, Vermont, July 7, 2016. (AP/Lisa Rathke)

Early Learning in the United States

Explore other fact sheets in this series.

The importance of high-quality early learning programs, such as child care and preschool, for children and families in the Unites States is well-recognized. Research has demonstrated the short- and long-term benefits for children who participate in high-quality early learning programs, and more than 15 million children have both parents in the workforce—making access to high-quality early learning programs an economic necessity. However, many states’ policies fail to support access to affordable, high-quality programs.

The high cost of child care leaves too many families without options. The average cost of center-based care in the United States comprises nearly 30 percent of the median family income. However, the high cost of care does not guarantee quality, and state systems to measure and increase quality are underutilized in most states. While many states publicly fund preschool programs, only 5 percent of 3-year-olds and 32 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in a public preschool setting, such as Head Start or a state-funded preschool program, and even among these publicly funded preschool programs, quality varies greatly.

The following fact sheets provide an in-depth look at both the need for and the current state of early learning programs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The fact sheets include:

  • State-specific costs of child care and cost as a percentage of income for families of color and families living in poverty
  • Percentages of child care providers participating in a state quality rating and improvement system
  • Brief descriptions of state-funded preschool programs and the proportion of children in each state who access these programs
  • How access to affordable, high-quality early childhood programs can boost states’ economies
  • How capping child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income and voluntary universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds can benefit children and families in each state

State policymakers and advocates can use this tool to highlight why it is important to enact policies that support young children’s learning, families’ economic security, and state economies.

Simon Workman is the associate director of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. Jessica Troe is the former policy and outreach coordinator for Early Childhood Policy at the Center.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Simon Workman

Principal, Prenatal to Five Fiscal Strategies; former director, Early Childhood Policy, Center for American Progress

Jessica Troe

Policy and Outreach Coordinator

Explore The Series

These state fact sheets provide data on access to affordable child care for families, compensation for child care providers, and economic benefits of increased public investment in early learning.


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