This article ran in the Fall 2021 issue of Hourglass Quarterly. View the full publication here.
Amid the pandemic, the number of young children attending preschool has dropped to its lowest level nationwide in more than a quarter century. The decline threatens to derail decades of improvements in school readiness, particularly for the most-vulnerable children.
New Census data show only 40 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school in 2020, a 14 percentage-point drop from 2019 and the first time since 1996 that fewer than half of U.S. children in that age group attended preschool. Pennsylvania saw an even greater drop—31.4%—in pre-K enrollment.
In 2019, only 14% of Lancaster County 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program, lower than the Pennsylvania rate of 23%.
The National Institute for Early Education Research found the top three reasons parents pulled their young children from preschool included fears of health risks, cuts to state and other preschool programs and a dearth of in-school preschool options for working parents. In fact, the Census data show young children of working moms were particularly hard hit; their preschool enrollment nationwide fell 35 percent in 2020, compared to only 10 percent of 3- to 4-year-olds whose mothers did not work.