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New Report on Pre-K in Cities Shows 34 of Nation’s Largest Cities Now Have Pre-K Program


December 12, 2019

Seven New Cities Earn Gold Medals in Assessment by NIEER at Rutgers University and CityHealth

New Brunswick, NJ – A new national report shows which large U.S. cities are leading on policies that address health and well-being, including high-quality, accessible pre-K. Seven new cities were awarded gold medals for their high-quality preschool programs: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, New York, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and San Francisco. Medals were awarded by CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, based on an analysis by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). NIEER is part of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

The CityHealth report offers a close look at whether the nation’s 40 largest cities have nine key policies in place that experts say help residents lead healthier lives and make communities thrive.

CityHealth awarded each city a gold, silver, bronze, or no medal in nine policy areas according to the quality and strength of a city’s laws addressing issues like affordable housing, safe streets, food safety, and early education. 

Thirty-four out of 40 cities nationwide received a medal for high-quality pre-K, which is one more city than 2018. Medals are based on a policy analysis by NIEER assistant research professor GG Weisenfeld and senior co-director Ellen Frede. 

“While all children benefit from and should receive a high-quality pre-K education, the children who benefit the most live in America’s cities,” Weisenfeld said. “For all children, and especially children in our cities, high-quality pre-K is the path to greater opportunity and a brighter future.”

“This new data shows that cities are showing strong leadership when it comes to designing and implementing high quality, accessible early education programs,” said Shelley Hearne, DrPH, president of CityHealth. “When cities leverage proven methods to create high-impact programs for young residents, and then make investments to open access, it creates a healthier new generation, and better communities for everyone.”

Weisenfeld and Frede assessed cities based on their compliance with NIEER’s 10 evidence-based benchmarks of pre-K quality. NIEER uses the same benchmarks for evaluating state pre-K policies for its annual State of Preschool report.

To win a gold medal, a city had to meet at least eight of NIEER’s benchmarks and have at least 30 percent of a city’s 4-year-old children enrolled in a locally- or state-funded pre-K program. For silver, a city had to meet the eight quality benchmarks, but did not have to meet access standards. Bronze medals were awarded to cities meeting only the 30 percent enrollment threshold.

Cities receiving a silver medal are Austin, Kansas City, Portland, Seattle, and Virginia Beach.

Cities earning a bronze medal are Baltimore, Denver, El Paso, Fort Worth, Fresno, Houston, Jacksonville, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, Milwaukee, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, and Washington, D.C. 

Cities failing to quality for a medal are Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Mesa, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Tucson. 

Almost half of the cities (18 out of 40) have developed separate, locally funded preschool programs, or adopted policies with standards that are higher than those the state requires. State-funded programs operating within these cities are expected to adhere to the higher local standards.

Access to high-quality pre-K benefits children and their communities throughout the course of their lives. High-quality pre-K helps raise children’s lifetime wages, high school graduation rates and years of education completed, reduce crime and teen pregnancy, and improve health outcomes.

The National Institute for Early Education Research, which is in the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy and practice through independent, objective research. nieer.org

CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, works to advance a package of proven policy solutions that will help millions of people live longer, better lives in vibrant, prosperous communities. CityHealth regularly evaluates cities on the number and strength of their policies. cityhealth.org

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2019 NIEER-CityHealth Pre-K Assessment of 40 US Cities

CityHealth News Release, Major Gains Found in New CityHealth Annual Policy Assessment, November 13, 2019