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The Effects of Expanded Public Funding for Early Education and Child Care on Preschool Enrollment in the 1990s

Authors:
Publication Date:
Jan 2003
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Although the share of all 3- and 4-year old children enrolled in preschool has grown steadily in recent decades, gaps in enrollment have persisted between children
from low- and high-income families. Steady growth in public funding for compensatory preschool education and means-tested child care assistance during this period had the potential to close these gaps by increasing the availability of free or low-cost arrangements. Merging repeated cross sectional data on preschool attendance from the October Current Population Survey with data on state-level funding, we find that increases in public funding explain as much as half of the rise in low-income young children’s preschool attendance during the 1990s, amounting to 8 to 11 percentage points. We conclude that in the absence of public investments, the gaps in preschool enrollment between low- and high-income families would have widened.

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