Are Hispanic Children Losing Out in Preschool?

As revealed in The State of Preschool 2010, enrollment in state-funded pre-K programs nationwide has been negatively impacted by these bad budget years. Enrollment of 4-year-olds nationwide grew by only 3.9 percent, and 3-year-old enrolled actually declined by about 4 percent from 2008-2009 to 2009-2010. Both per-child and overall funding were down as well. These changes appear to be affecting young Hispanic learners worse than other groups.

The 2010 Census may show dramatic growth among the Hispanic population of children nationwide, but state-funded pre-K programs are not showing the same growth. The Yearbook does not collect information on enrollment by ethnicity or race, but data on programs in major Hispanic states is not encouraging. Arizona, which has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the nation, has cut its pre-K program entirely for the 2010-2011 school year, and shows no signs of reviving it. Cuts to early education have been proposed in at least seven states with among the largest Hispanic populations: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

As it is, Hispanic students who are able to access state-funded preschools may not be fully benefiting in some of these states. For instance:
• Texas enrolls more than 200,000 children, including 87,863 English Language Learners, in its preschool program, but it ranks poorly in its program quality. It is the only state program with no limits on class size or number of children per teacher. Proposed budget cuts could mean lower quality for many students, and decreases in the number of children being served.
• Florida ranks second in the nation in the percentage of children served, but received low marks when it comes to spending per child and program quality standards. Florida used $38 million in federal stimulus funds in the 2009-2010 school year to help support its preschool program, but these funds will not be available in the future.

There has been at least some good news for Hispanic preschoolers. In the 2009-2010 school year, California consolidated several child care and preschool programs into a single large preschool education program. While this policy change only consolidated enrollment and spending rather than increasing either, it will enable children to be in more education-focused programs. Among states with large Hispanic populations, the preschool programs in Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington receive high marks for program quality standards.

The Yearbook contains other indicators, including eligibility policies, support services and ELL enrollment, of how well Hispanic children are being served in public pre-K programs. Of the 54 programs profiled in the Yearbook, only 17 identify having non-English-speaking family members as a factor that may make students eligible for pre-K. The Kansas At-Risk Program may also determine eligibility based on a family’s migrant status. Thirty-six pre-K initiatives require at least one support service for ELLs and their families, while 15 programs do not require these services. Support services range from administering a home language survey to providing translators to offering monolingual non-English classes in pre-K.

It is difficult to estimate the number of English Language Learners (ELLs) served in state-funded pre-K programs as many states do not track the specific enrollment of these students. Only half of programs profiled in the Yearbook could report the number of ELLs in their program for a total nationwide of 128,312 ELLs. This number severely underreports ELL enrollment, as a number of states with large Hispanic populations — including Arizona, California, Illinois, and New Jersey — were unable to report their ELL enrollment. There are large variations in the reported enrollment of ELLs from 87,863 in Texas (41 percent of the total pre-K enrollment) to only 35 in West Virginia (0.25 percent of the total pre-K enrollment).

While ELLs can come from any linguistic background and therefore include children of any race and ethnicity, Hispanic children merit particular attention as their population grows, but many continue to suffer from an achievement gap. Evidence from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that Hispanic students lag behind white students in both fourth and eighth-grade math and reading proficiency, in high school graduation rates, and in college enrollment.

Achievement and Attainment by Race Whites Hispanic
4th grade % proficient math 50% 21%
4th grade % proficient reading 41% 16%
8th grade % proficient math 43% 17%
8th grade % proficient reading 39% 16%
High School Graduation 81% 64%
College Enrollment 63% 12%

Source: Milagros Nores and Niufeng Zhu, NIEER

Children from minority and immigrant backgrounds can benefit significantly from high-quality early learning programs. Positive outcomes include being less likely to be held back in school, and more likely to graduate from high school. As adults, they are more likely to be employed and less likely to commit crimes. Nationally, the Obama administration has recently increased its emphasis on improving educational outcomes for Hispanic children, as well as promoting high-quality early childhood education — two strategies that go hand-in-hand. Advocates must work to keep these issues in the spotlight, not only at the national level, but also as states continue to face harrowing budget decisions.

— Celia C. Ayala, Ph.D.,
Chief Executive Officer, Los Angeles Universal Preschool


  1. My daughter was at work with me until she started walking. Not in HOME either. At my WORK. i would lay a playmat down for her to roll around on. I got her a bit jeep as she got older to cruise around the office in. And also a jumperoo and swing. It figured out fine. I’d say if your at a desk… it would be NO problem having himthere with you. you can surprisingly do alot while feeding… on a computer. And then during naptimes… save your more challenging stuff for then.
    It can compute. but as she started walking it was harder to monitor what all she was getting into… therefore, she now goes to daycare.

  2. Pingback: Missed Opportunities: Pre-K Lags for Hispanic Children « Preschool Matters… Today!