Center for American Progress

RELEASE: President Obama’s Federal Early Education Investment Can Help Close the Preschool-Access Gap
Press Release

RELEASE: President Obama’s Federal Early Education Investment Can Help Close the Preschool-Access Gap

Washington, D.C. –  The Center for American Progress today released a state-by-state analysis showing that far too many 3- and 4-year-olds do not participate in any kind of preschool program. The analysis demonstrates that President Barack Obama’s proposal to provide a significant federal investment for early education programs has the potential to radically increase the reach and quality of pre-K programs across the 50 states.

“President Obama’s bold investment in pre-K and early learning will help ensure all of America’s children start off the race ready to succeed, instead of already falling behind at the starting line,” said Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “In a globalized economy, with China and India making massive investments in their young people, these investments in America’s future talent are both critical and far-sighted. They will help improve our children’s academic performance and reduce long-term inequality, all while helping families struggling to balance their responsibilities at home and at work. Early learning and pre-K are the kinds of smart investments we can’t afford not to make, even in tight budget times.”

The analysis, entitled “Federal Investment Can Help Close the Preschool-Access Gap,” shows that while most states have expanded access to state-funded preschool, too few children are able to participate in these programs. The access gap is especially acute for children living below the poverty line. But children above the poverty line also need greater access to preschool.

Key findings from CAP’s analysis of the preschool access include:

  • Vermont leads the country in the number of 3- and 4-year-olds who are enrolled in state-funded preschools, followed by Florida, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Yet even in Vermont, less than half of 3- and 4-year-olds attend preschool.
  • In the middle of the pack, Connecticut ranks 25th in state-funded preschool enrollment of 3- and 4-year-olds with only 10 percent of children enrolled. And 11 states do not currently have a state-funded preschool program: Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
  • In many states, the federally funded Head Start program is picking up some of the slack. In Mississippi, for example, one-third of its 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in a preschool funded almost entirely with Head Start dollars.

Among states with preschool programs, quality varies greatly, with many states failing to meet high-quality benchmarks. Some states have expanded access but lag behind on quality. Texas, for example, enrolls more than 50 percent of its 4-year-olds but does not meet the quality standards for class size and staff-to-student ratios. Other states understand the importance of quality, but too few children are able to participate. Alabama is the leading example in this category. Alabama meets requirements for preschool teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and have specialized training in early childhood education, requires small class sizes, and has low staff-to-child ratios, yet only 3 percent of Alabama’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled.

Few states are in a financial position to offer all 3- and 4-year-old children voluntary access to high-quality preschool education. Federal dollars can help states move toward this goal. This investment could help jumpstart preschool programs in states without adequate preschools and could also help states with programs reach the lowest-income children. This would free up state dollars to expand access for higher-income children and improve program quality.

Read the analysis: Federal Investment Can Help Close the Preschool-Access Gap by Juliana Herman and Melissa Lazarín

Interactive map: The Preschool-Access Gap by Juliana Herman, Sasha Post, and Melissa Lazarín

The following experts from the Center for American Progress are available today to discuss early education and the president’s budget:

To speak with an expert, contact Katie Peters at [email protected] or 202.741.6285.