New Report on Pre-K in Cities Shows 33 of Nation’s Largest Cities Now Have Public Pre-K Program

Three 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.

Three new cities were awarded gold medals for their high-quality preschool programs: Louisville, Memphis, and Philadelphia.

They join Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, New York, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and San Francisco, each of which received a gold medal in 2017, 2018, or 2019.

The awards come weeks after voters in several cities, counties, and states approved pre-K ballot measures. Voters in San Antonio renewed a sales tax to continue funding the city’s preschool program. Multnomah County, Oregon approved free universal preschool for children in Portland. Similar initiatives were approved in Colorado, Florida, and St. Louis.

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 awards cities with 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, Complete Streets, food safety, and earned sick leave.

Thirty-three out of 40 cities nationwide received a medal for public pre-K. Medals are based on a policy analysis by NIEER project director GG Weisenfeld and senior co-director Ellen Frede.

“All children benefit from and should receive a high-quality pre-K education. American cities have an opportunity to increase their investments through enhancing the quality of their programs and increasing access,” 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.”

“High-quality, accessible pre-K has been proven to create better outcomes for kids by improving school readiness and success,” said CityHealth Co-Executive Director Catherine Patterson. “Even during a year that has been fundamentally altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, cities are continuing to prioritize high-quality pre-K for the health and well-being of our youngest generation.”

“America’s cities have shown incredible resilience in the face of the myriad of challenges that 2020 has delivered,” said CityHealth Co-Executive Director Katrina Forrest. “Resilient cities are responding to the moment by adopting policies like high-quality, accessible pre-K. These policies are proven to strengthen communities for years to come and will help all residents live their healthiest possible lives.”

Weisenfeld and Frede assessed cities based on their compliance with NIEER’s 10 evidence-based benchmarks of pre-K quality during the 2018-2019 school year. 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 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 Portland, Seattle, and Virginia Beach.

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

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

More than half of the cities (21 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.

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. Learn more at

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NIEER/CityHealth – Pre-K Summary Benchmarks and Enrollment 2020 (PDF)