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

Katherine Magnuson, University Of Wisconsin at Madison
Marcia K. Meyers, University of Washington
Jane Waldfogel, Columbia University

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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Presented in Session 163: Demography and Education Policy