Children from low-income families typically have access to fewer resources and opportunities to be prepared for and succeed in school, compared to their high-income peers, and they face persistent gaps in key indicators of long-term educational success, such as kindergarten readiness and early math and reading scores.
The 70 percent of four-year-olds in the United States who enroll in formal pre-kindergarten programs are more likely to graduate high school than those who do not; and those left out and left behind are disproportionately children of color and those from low-income families. But cities can take the lead on narrowing this gap and setting all students on the path to academic success by expanding access to formal preschool education for three- and four-year-old children and simultaneously improving the quality of existing preschool programs. High-quality preschool programs represent an investment in the workers, leaders, and innovators of tomorrow by helping low-income children build academic and social skills, promoting their cognitive development and mental health, and preparing them to succeed in school. These programs can also be a strategy to address economic inequities for workers today.
On average, the cost of center-based childcare amounts to about 50 percent of the income of a family of three living at the federal poverty level. That means expanding preschool access can also remove barriers to employment and help build economic security for low-income parents — particularly women — and contribute to building a stronger economy for all. Every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education results can save $8 to $16 in public spending related to special education, grade retention, criminal justice, and welfare.
For more resources on quality preschool for low-income children, see the Children’s Defense Fund, the Center for Public Education, Strategies for Children, and the National Institute for Early Education Research.