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.

Embed on your website

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.

Embed on your website

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

Embed on your website

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

Embed on your website
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
[1]

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.

[2]

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.