Only Four of 10 Children Go to Public Preschool, But Washington and Seattle Are Making Progress

Preschool can be a powerful tool that prepares students to succeed in school and life, but today six of 10 children don’t even attend public preschools that can make that difference, the U.S. Education Department reports.


In a new report, the Education Department lays out the stark reality that 59 percent of the nation’s 4-year-olds do not go to public preschool programs, and an even smaller number are enrolled in high-quality preschool. Access is lowest among Latino, African American and low-income families.


The good news is that many states and cities are expanding access to preschool classrooms that prepare students for school. In Washington this spring, legislators are considering two budget plans: a House version that would add 6,358 new slots to the state’s preschool program, the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), and a Senate plan that would add 4,000 spots. Whatever legislators decide to add, Washington state is already one of the few states to increase spending on preschool by more than 20 percent last year, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.


In Seattle this week, the City Council approved a plan to begin the city’s new preschool program this fall, including requiring providers to score well on the state’s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), Early Achievers, The Seattle Times reports.

Under the city’s plan, preschool providers in areas near low-achieving public schools will receive highest priority as the city approves the first 14 subsidized classrooms this fall and then expands to about 100 classrooms by the 2018-19 school year. Preschool programs that target low-income families and can prove they are high-quality or offer dual-language programs will also be prioritized.

“Seattle City Council gives OK to launch of preschool program.” 4/6/15.

All this work gets to the heart of the new report from the U.S. Education Department. Across the country, children from low-income and African American families “are the most likely to attend low- quality preschool programs,” the report says. Latino families enroll in preschool at the lowest rate, it adds.


If the nation is going to close the opportunity gap, it needs to close this preschool gap. Lower rates of access to good preschools fuels a school readiness gap, a key factor in the country’s schools.

“By making a significant investment in preschool a key component of ESEA, we can help America live up to its highest ideals, as a place with real equity of opportunity. Congress has a chance to honor and extend the civil rights legacy of our education law by providing all children — no matter where they live or how much money their parents earn — an equal opportunity to begin school ready to succeed.”

“A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America.” Homeroom blog, U.S. Education Department, 4/7/15.

Check it out.