Home / Education / Articles / 3.7 million three- and four-year olds were not in pre-primary programs in 2018

Presidential candidate Joe Biden released a $775 billion plan addressing child and elder care, including a proposal to offer universal preschool for three-and four-year-olds. In light of this proposal, what is the current state of pre-primary education in the US?

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), around 54% of all three-and four-year-old children were enrolled in pre-primary programs in 2018, including part-day and full-day preschool and kindergarten programs. This means that out of 8.1 million children in this age group, 3.7 million were not enrolled in pre-primary programs.

Of the 4.4 million three- and four-year-olds that were enrolled in 2018, 55.3% were in full-day programs while just under half were in part-day programs. About 7.5% of those enrolled were in kindergarten. Since 2000, pre-primary enrollment rates have remained relatively stable among all age groups, with enrollment among three-and four-year-olds staying around 53% over the time period.

Pre-primary enrollment varies substantially between states; in 2017, 76.2% of preschool-aged children were enrolled in school programs in Washington, DC, while 27.5% were enrolled in North Dakota.

Percent school enrollment among children aged three to four

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Families with working parents or guardians enroll children in pre-primary programs at higher rates than families without parental employment. In households with every parent or guardian employed, 67.9% of children aged three to five years were enrolled in 2018 compared to 52.4% in households with no parent or guardian employed.

Children of different races and ethnicity also attend pre-primary programs at different rates. White three and four year olds enrolled at the highest rate (67.8%) in 2018, followed by Black children (62.6%), Hispanic children (59.4%), Asian children (57.9%), and American Indian or Alaska Native children (53.5%). However, white children were enrolled in full-day programs at lower rates compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Due to small sample sizes, NCES did not report enrollment rates among Pacific Islander children.

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Table 202.10. Enrollment of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children in preprimary programs, by age of child, level of program, control of program, and attendance status: Selected years, 1970 through 2018
Last updated
July 2019
Table 202.20. Percentage of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children enrolled in preprimary programs, by level of program, attendance status, and selected child and family characteristics: 2018
Last updated
July 2019
Table 202.25. Percentage of 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in school, by race/ethnicity and state: 2017
Last updated
March 2019