“Children who attend center care or preschool programs enter school more ready to learn, but both the share of children enrolled in these programs and the quality of care they receive differ by race and ethnicity. Black children are more likely to attend preschool than white children, but may experience lower-quality care. Hispanic children are much less likely than white children to attend preschool. The types of preschool that children attend also differ. Both black and Hispanic children are more likely than white children to attend Head Start.” (The Future of Children: School Readiness: Closing Ethnic and Racial Gaps)
Public funding of early childhood care and education, particularly Head Start, has made some progress in reducing ethnic and racial gaps in preschool attendance. Magnuson and Waldfogel, in their chapter in the School Readiness volume of the Future of Children, conclude that “substantial increases in Hispanic and black children’s enrollment in preschool, alone or in combination with increases in preschool quality, have the potential to decrease school readiness gaps.”
Although we know how beneficial it is for children to attend preschool or prekindergarten, the expansion of these programs has slowed down and in some cases has halted or reversed due to budget cuts. “Roughly a quarter of the nation’s 4-year-olds and more than half of 3-year-olds attend no preschool, either public or private. Families who earn about $40,000 to $50,000 annually face the greatest difficulties because they make too much to qualify for many publicly funded programs, but can’t afford private ones, said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.”
According to Pre-K Now, state moneys for prekindergarten more than doubled nationally to $5.1 billion, while at the same time access increased from a little more than 700,000 children to more than 1 million over the past decade. But in the 2009-10 school year, state budget cuts began affecting the programs.
Despite these challenges, early childhood learning advocates are encouraged by a recent federal emphasis on improving early childhood programs. As noted in the Huffington Post’s piece Public Pre-Kindergarten Programs Slowed, Even Reversed, By Recession, “nine states were awarded a collective $500 million in grants last month to improve access to and the quality of early childhood programs for kids from birth to age 5. A month earlier, President Barak Obama announced new rules under which lower-performing Head Start programs will compete for funding,” In an effort to improve the quality of pre-kindergarten programs. (Huffington Post 1/17/12)
For more on education policies that impact children, go to the Future of Children website: www.futureofchildren.org.