Equitable Access to Universal Prekindergarten in Washington, DC

Brief

Equitable Access to Universal Prekindergarten in Washington, DC

Abstract

Early education programs have emerged as a leading policy for reducing inequalities among young children. In the District of Columbia, 3- and 4-year-old children apply through a common lottery for spots in the District’s public schools. To assess application and outcome patterns, we analyzed preschool applications submitted to the District of Columbia’s centralized admissions lottery, My School DC, and approximated several community characteristics using Public Use Microdata Samples from the American Community Survey.

Our findings show that matched applicants mirror their respective populations of 3- and 4-year-old children in DC, yet wait-listed applicants disproportionately come from socioeconomically advantaged communities and from families in immigrant communities. Though it is encouraging that matched applicants closely resemble the overall population of prekindergarten-age children in DC, this brief suggests that increasing the match and enrollment rates will not ensure all children entering the K–12 school system are prepared. Rather, high-quality, effective, and accessible programs for children from communities marginalized from traditional education systems can help define equity in the prekindergarten lottery.

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