Young Children Not in School: Steady National Figure Masks Big Changes in the States

Posted March 19, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Update youngchildrennotinschool 2019

Going all the way back to 20072009 and con­tin­u­ing through 20152017, the three-year aver­age share of 3- and 4‑year-olds not in school had been either 52% or 53%, with the actu­al num­ber of chil­dren hov­er­ing between 4,223,000 and 4,421,000.

From a nation­al per­spec­tive, it’s one of the most sta­ble indi­ca­tors of children’s well-being that can be found on the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter. But at a more local lev­el, it’s a sto­ry of remark­able and — in some places — trou­bling trends, with the per­cent­ages of young chil­dren in school ris­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly in some states and falling quick­ly in oth­ers over the past decade or so.

Tak­ing a clos­er look at these data is impor­tant. Attend­ing prekinder­garten can help ensure kids are ready for school, with the high­est-risk chil­dren accru­ing the great­est gains.

The Dis­trict of Colum­bia had the small­est per­cent­age of young chil­dren not in school: just 25% of 3- and 4‑year-olds were not enrolled, per the most recent avail­able data. Con­necti­cut (35%), New Jer­sey (36%) and Puer­to Rico (37%) followed.

The data across time tell dif­fer­ent sto­ries. Puer­to Rico’s share has fall­en from a recent high of 46% (20082010); Connecticut’s and New Jersey’s num­bers remained rel­a­tive­ly steady through­out the decade; and the Dis­trict of Columbia’s fig­ure fell from 33% (20072009) to 19% before ris­ing to 25%.

The sta­tis­ti­cal tra­jec­to­ries of states with high per­cent­ages of young chil­dren not in school are sim­i­lar­ly dis­tinct. North Dakota’s 20152017 rate of 69% — a nation­al high — was close to its 20072009 rate of 67%. But Arizona’s rate of 61% in 20152017 — though high — rep­re­sents a nose­dive from 67% in 20082010. Neva­da also saw its rate drop over time — from 70% in 20072009 to 63% in 20152017. Trend­ing in the oth­er direc­tion: Hawaii had a 20152017 fig­ure of 54%, reflect­ing a sig­nif­i­cant jump from 45% in 20072009. And in Ken­tucky, the share of 3- and 4‑year-olds not in school rose from 54% to 59% over the same time frame.

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