The federal government got involved in pre-school education almost 40 years ago with the passage of Head Start. This program creates pre-k programs for lower income four year olds. The adoption of Head Start helped lead to the rise of pre-schools across the board, and today a majority of 3-5 year old children are enrolled in some sort of early education program. States have also joined the effort, funding public pre-kindergarten programs independent of Head Start. While Head Start is popular on both sides of the aisle, critics say its benefits (or lack of), don't justify its cost.



Percentage of 3-5 year olds in:

  • pre-school (including kindergarten): 64% (2001):
  • public pre-school 41% (2001):
  • private pre-school: 23% (2001):

4-year-old enrollment:

  • Total: 66%
  • Public: 37%
  • Private 30%

5-year-old enrollment:

  • Total: 87%
  • Public: 71%
  • Private: 15.5%

over the years

source: NCES

In public schools

Percent of all public schools that offer pre-kindergarten programs (2000-2001):

  • Total: 35% NCES (pdf)

    • Full-day only: 13% NCES (pdf)
    • Half-day only: 19% NCES (pdf)
    • Both full-day and half-day: 3% NCES (pdf)
  • General Education only: 20% NCES
  • Special Education only: 8% NCES
  • Both general and special education: 8% NCES


State funding for Pre-K (2003):

  • $2.5 billion (according to NIEER)
  • $2.9 billion (includes $0.2 billion in funds for Head Start) (according to HHS)

Average per child served:

Federal Head Start funding (proposed 2006) $6.9 billion HHS

Spending per child served: $7,089 (2003) NIEER

Federal funding for other pre-school and child care programs:

  • $10 billion (2003) HHS

State funding for other child care programs:

  • $3 billion (2003) HHS

Total State and Federal funding on pre-school and child-care:

  • $23 billion (2003) HHS

Where the facts are from

updated July 1, 2005

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