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Post navigation Washington, D.C. — The pre-K capital where nearly all 4-year-olds (and most 3-year-olds!) go to school


June 24, 2016
AccessState & Local
Carolyn Phenicie
LA School Report

Dino-dances, stomach agriculture debates, and other adorable activities resounded across the city that morning, testifying to the fact that Washington, D.C. sends nearly all of its children to pre-K. Spurred by a landmark 2008 law, the District enrolls 85 percent or more of its four-year-olds (depending on who’s counting) and an even more remarkable 60-plus percent of three-year-olds. “The city has committed to providing a high-quality seat [to every pre-K child,]” said Travis Wright, who leads early learning programs for District of Columbia Public Schools. “That’s not something every child in the United States has.”

The National Institute of Early Education Research, which tracks enrollment nationally but uses a different methodology than the District, said 86 percent of Washington, D.C.’s four-year-olds and 64 percent of three-year-olds were enrolled in publicly-funded programs in 2015. By contrast, Vermont, which leads all states in NIEER’s early-education enrollment analysis, had 84 percent of four-year-olds and 26 percent of three-year-olds in programs that year.

The District’s high numbers reflect a surge over over the last decade. Just 61 percent of four-year-olds, and 28 percent of three-year-olds, were enrolled in 2004, according to NIEER. In all, more than 12,500 children out of an estimated 16,400 were enrolled in public preschool, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. An additional 1,221 children were in full-day subsidized daycare, according to the state superintendent’s office. Early childhood educators and advocates attribute the city’s high enrollment to its commitment to provide sufficient support — preschoolers are funded using the same formula that funds older students, teachers are paid on the same salary schedule as teachers in higher grades, and city leaders have refused to cut support even in lean budget years.