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.
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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