download (2)The U.S. Department of Education released a new report today detailing the unmet need across the country for high-quality preschool programs.

According to the report, A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America, of the approximately 4 million 4-year olds in the Unites States, about 60 percent – or nearly 2.5 million – are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs, including state preschool programs, Head Start and programs serving children with disabilities. Even fewer are enrolled in the highest-quality programs.In Michigan 64 percent of 4-year-olds are not enrolled.

The report highlights the need for an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that expands access to high-quality early learning opportunities and makes the law preschool through 12th grade, rather than K-12. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed the report today during a visit to Martin Luther King Jr. Early Childhood Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This new report shows that we are a long way from achieving full educational opportunity in this country. Students have made enormous progress in recent years, thanks to the hard work of educators, families and the students themselves, but we have so much farther to go, and making high-quality preschool available to all families who want it must be part of that,” Duncan said. “We’ve made key investments in early learning, but we need to do more. Expanding access to high-quality preschool within the reauthorization of ESEA will narrow achievement gaps, and reflect the real, scientific understanding that learning begins long before a child enters kindergarten.”

Advances in science and research have proven the important impact that preschool programs can have on children’s learning, but unfortunately too many children still do not have access to these programs. Latinos are the United States’ fastest growing and largest minority group, making up a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds, yet they have the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race – 40 percent as compared to 50 percent for African-American children, and 53 percent for white children. In addition, children from low-income families are less likely to be enrolled in preschool than their peers – 41 percent compared to 61 percent. African-American children and children from low-income families are the most likely to be in low-quality settings and the least likely to be in high-quality settings. All children need access to high-quality preschool to prepare them for kindergarten and to close the opportunity and achievement gaps.

For some children when they enter kindergarten, huge educational gaps exists. White students have higher reading and math scores than students of color. Scores on reading and math were lowest for kindergartners in households with incomes below the federal poverty level and highest for those in households with incomes at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Children at risk for academic failure, on average, start kindergarten 12 to 14 months behind their peers in pre-literacy and language skills.  Without access to quality preschool, students of color, and children from low-income families, are far less likely to be prepared to start kindergarten than their peers.

High-quality preschool provides benefits to society of $8.60 for every $1 spent, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors December 2014 report, The Economics of Early Childhood Investments, about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up.  An impressive coalition of education, business, law enforcement, retired military, child advocacy groups, and faith-based leaders and 70 percent of voters said in a recent Gallup poll that they would support increasing federal funding to make sure high-quality preschool programs are available for every child in America.

The Obama Administration has made significant investments in early learning through the Early Learning Challenge and the Preschool Development Grants programs. The grants lay the groundwork for states to be prepared for the proposed Preschool for All program. The Administration has asked for an increase of $500 million for Preschool Development Grants in the FY16 budget request to expand this opportunity to more states, the Bureau of Indian Education, tribal educational agencies, territories, and the outlying areas.

Preschool Development Grants support states’ efforts to build or enhance their infrastructure to provide high-quality preschool programs, and expand programs in high-need communities. The $250 million awarded to 18 states will benefit more than 33,000 additional children in 200 high-need communities, where families have little or no access to affordable, high-quality preschool.  With additional funding, the Department could have provided high-quality opportunities for many more children in the 36 states that applied.

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