Why Universal Preschool Is Especially Important For Children Of Color


Expanding preschool wouldn’t just benefit all children, their families, and the economy — it would have particularly strong benefits for the country’s children of color, according to recent report from the Center for American Progress.

Over 60 percent of Hispanic children ages three to four, more than half of African American children, and just under half of Asian American children don’t attend preschool, according to the most recent data. Yet studies of some of the places that serve most of their four-year-olds with access to preschool, such as Georgia, Tennessee, Tulsa, OK, and Boston, MA, show that these children stand to see even greater academic gains than their white peers.

African American children in Tulsa made a 21 percent gain in problem-solving skills, compared to white children’s 6 percent gain, while making similar gains in literacy skills. Black children in Boston also made stronger gains than their white classmates on three out of 13 developmental assessments.

Hispanic children in Boston had “especially large gains” in vocabulary, literacy, and problem solving, the report notes, as well as significant gains in “inhibition” and “attention shifting,” skills thought to be related to attention and self-discipline. Hispanic children also had especially strong results in Tulsa in literacy and problem solving, making greater gains than than any other subgroup. Children who learn English as a second language, who are often Hispanic, made even bigger gains that Hispanic children who already spoke English. Spanish-speaking students in Georgia made gains much higher than other groups on several skills, particularly in vocabulary and math, and in Tennessee non-native English speakers made larger gains than children who already spoke English and had 85 percent greater gains on language development than ESOL students who didn’t go to preschool.

There is less information on Asian American children, but in Boston they made more gains than white children on several skills, particularly in problem solving.

While most students of color have made gains in closing the achievement gap with their white peers over the past decade, the gap remains and students of color still fall behind their white classmates in college readiness. The report posits that universal preschool could go a long way to helping close those differences early on.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of members of Congress put forward a bill that would expand preschool across all states to children living in families who make 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $47,000 a year for a family of four, while also expanding high-quality childcare. Their bill came after President Obama called for universal preschool access in his State of the Union address and included $75 billion in funding for such a program in his budget.

While they wait for potential federal action, some states are already working on universal preschool programs, including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Lawmakers also introduced legislation in Indiana and South Carolina.

On the whole, though, states are spending the lowest amount per student in Pre-K in a decade, and the country ranks at number 21 globally in the percentage of GDP spent on early childhood education. Enrollment rates are low, with just under 70 percent of four-year-olds and about half of three-year-olds enrolled in a program. Yet the economic and societal benefits of high-quality preschool are clear. Chicago’s program has been found to generate $11 in economic benefits for each dollar spent on it, and others generate $7 in long-term savings per dollar. Preschool access increases social and economic mobility, boosts human capital and GDP, and reduces costs in a child’s life later on.