Associate Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College
President Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative calls for dramatic increases in the number of 4-year-olds enrolled in public preschool programs and in the quality of these programs nationwide. The preschools proposed by the initiative share many characteristics with the universal preschool that have been offered in Georgia and Oklahoma since the 1990s. This study draws together data from multiple sources to estimate the impacts of these “model” state programs on preschool enrollment and a broad set of family and child outcomes. We find that the state programs have increased the preschool enrollment rates of children from lower- and higher-income families alike. Among lower-income families, our findings also suggest that the programs have increased the amount of time mothers and children spend together on activities such as reading, the likelihood that mothers work, and children’s test performance as late as eighth grade. Among higher-income families, however, we find that the programs have shifted children from private to public preschools, resulting in less of an impact on overall enrollment but a reduction in childcare expenses, and that they have had no positive effect on these children’s later test scores.