U.Va. Study Finds At-Risk 4-Year-Olds Missing Out On Preschool

Oct. 23, 2007 — Forty-three percent of Virginia’s 4-year-olds were not enrolled in preschool in 2005, according to U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Children from families below the poverty level had the lowest rate of pre-school enrollment.

The study, conducted by the Cooper Center’s Demographics and Workforce Section, describes Virginia’s 4-year-old population and its participation rates in preschool, and provides context for Gov. Timothy Kaine’s proposals to expand access to high-quality preschool programs.

Close to one-third of Virginia’s 4-year-olds live in single-parent households; 15 percent live in poverty; and one of every 20 live in households where no one speaks English very well. The study found these family characteristics are important because they impact enrollment in preschool.

“In addition to poverty, a mother’s educational attainment has a major effect on enrollment,” according to Amanda Walters, Cooper Center researcher and author of the report. “Four-year-olds are three times as likely to be enrolled in a preschool program if their mother is at least a high school graduate, regardless of race, family type or poverty status.”

Students not enrolled at all share more personal and family characteristics with those enrolled in public preschool programs than with 4-year-olds enrolled in private programs. The poverty rates for non-enrolled and publicly enrolled 4-year-olds both exceed 20 percent. The poverty rate among privately enrolled 4-year-olds is less than 5 percent.

“The primary goal of state-funded pre-K programs is to provide quality education to families who cannot afford private schools,” said Qian Cai, director of the Cooper Center's Demographics and Workforce Section. “Expanding access to state-funded pre-K programs, as proposed by Gov. Kaine, will give thousands of at-risk children opportunities to attend preschool. This will not only benefit each underserved child, but in the long run may help build a stronger foundation for Virginia’s future workforce and economy.”

For a full report, visit www.coopercenter.org/demographics.  For information, please contact Amanda Walters at (434) 982-5861 or Qian Cai at (434) 982-5581.