Home / Education / Articles / More than 4 million 3 to-4-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool

About half of America’s 3 to-4-year-olds are enrolled in a public or private preschool according to 2019 Census data.

The Biden administration’s American Families Plan aims to make preschool free for any 3–4-year-old whose family chooses to enroll them. The program could provide early childhood education for 4.2 million 3–4-year-olds who are not already enrolled in preschool. It could also create no-cost options for families using private preschools, or 1.6 million 3–4-year-olds as of 2019.

Public preschoolers make up 29% of pre-k enrollment as of 2019 Census data.

The White House says its pre-k program would save the average American family $13,000. In 2016, the average yearly out-of-pocket cost at childcare centers for children three to five years old was $14,438 for 48 working weeks, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Childcare costs for families vary depending on location. Childcare centers in cities cost families $16,608 on average in 2016 while rural families spent an average of $10,714 on similar care.[1]

In 2016, childcare centers in cities cost double the amount of centers in small towns.

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The American Families Plan includes a $200 billion investment in a national partnership with states to ensure all 3 to-4-year-old children have access to “high-quality” preschools.[2] If passed, the plan would increase public spending on childcare considerably. In 2020, the federal government spent $16.7 billion on childcare programs including preschool development grants, childcare and development block grants, and Head Start programs. More than 60% of the money spent on childcare programs, $10.6 billion, went to Head Start programs last year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The Head Start program provides low-income families early childhood care and education, specifically for infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged youth.

29% of 3–4-year-olds received public preprimary education in 2019 according to Census data.

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What states have the highest public preschool enrollment rates?

Vermont and Washington, D.C. lead the nation in preschool enrollment. In Vermont, two-thirds of its 3–4-year-olds are enrolled as of 2019. Most of those children are in public preschool programs. Vermont has a universal pre-k program publicly funded by resident school districts. The program cost $3,178 per student in 2019. The per student cost rose to $3,536 in the 2021–2022 school year.

Vermont and Washington, DC lead the country in public preschool enrollment

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Along with Vermont, Florida, and Washington, DC have universal public pre-K programs where every preschool-aged child can enroll. The District of Columbia Public School System enrolls over 6,000 3–4-year-old preschool students across its elementary schools. Schools are assigned via a lottery. About two-thirds or 66.2% of 3–4-year-olds in Washington, DC were enrolled in its public preschools in 2019, according to Census data.

In Florida, voluntary preschool is available to all 4-year-olds through a variety of private and public early childhood education providers. The Florida Head Start program is another popular pre-primary program, providing care for low-income kids between 3-5 years of age. In 2020, 25% of eligible children ages 3–5 had access to Head Start, according to the National Head Start Association.

Georgia, Illinois, New York and Wisconsin offer publicly-funded preschool programs but each state has limitations. New York and Georgia’s pre-k programs are limited by funding, restricting the number of children that can enroll. Wisconsin fully funds public preschool programs but only for school districts that chose to offer them. If a district doesn’t offer pre-k, it’s not funded or available to families in that area.

North Dakota, Idaho, and Wyoming have some of the lowest enrollment rates of 3–4-year-olds in preschools.

Preschool enrollment by race and parental status

Children are more likely to be enrolled in preschool if at least one parent has a bachelor’s degree, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. About 60% of preschoolers in those families are enrolled in a pre-k program compared to 35% of families where neither parent completed high school.

The enrollment rate of preschool-aged children also varied between racial groups. In 2019, Asian 3–4-year-olds lead preschool enrollment at 56%. Pacific Islander children have the lowest rates of preschool enrollment at 39%.

Hispanic 3–4-year-old preschool enrollment is historically lower than Black, white and Asian students

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Percentage of 3- to 5-year-old children enrolled in school, by age and selected child and family characteristics: 2010 through 2019
Hourly out-of-pocket expense, by type of primary nonparental care
2019: ACS 1-Year Estimates Subject Tables

The US Census Bureau defines a large city as a territory inside an urbanized area and inside a principal city with a population of 250,000 or more. A rural fringe town is defined as a territory less than or equal to five miles from an urbanized area or a territory that is less than or equal to 2.5 miles from an urban cluster.


The Biden administration defines high-quality preschools as programs with low student-to-teacher ratios, high-quality and developmentally appropriate curriculum, and supportive classroom environments that are inclusive for all students.