Skip to main content

The Impacts of Expanding Access to High-Quality Preschool Education (WP-14-01)

Elizabeth Cascio and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

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 proposed program shares many characteristics with the universal preschools 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. The authors find that the state programs have increased the preschool enrollment rates of children from lower- and higher-income families alike. For lower-income families, the findings also suggest that the programs have increased the chances that mothers work, the amount of time mothers and children spend together on activities such as reading, and children’s test performance as late as eighth grade. For higher-income families, however, they 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 have had no positive effect on children’s later test scores.

Elizabeth Cascio, Associate Professor of Economics, Dartmouth College

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Download PDF