Study Finds High-Quality, Universal Preschool Would Benefit California's Population Centers
RAND Office of Media Relations
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December 15, 2005
A RAND Corporation study issued today estimating the local impact of high-quality universal preschool in California concludes that such early education would benefit each of the state's most populated regions by cutting the need for special education, reducing juvenile crime and eliminating the need for many children to repeat grades.
Regions that have larger numbers of poor and disadvantaged children would see benefits at rates that surpass what is expected statewide, the study says. But the potential gains from universal preschool would be substantial for all regions studied, which are home to 96 percent of the state's population, according to the report by researchers from RAND Labor and Population.
“High-quality, universal preschool would create many benefits for California over the lifetimes of the children who attend such programs,” said Lynn Karoly, a RAND senior economist and author of the report. “We have provided estimates of those benefits by region to give people a better idea of what universal preschool might mean for their own community.”
The RAND study did not examine the potential effects of any specific universal preschool program proposals for California, including one that is expected to appear on the statewide ballot in June.
Estimates of the benefits offered by universal preschool are derived from studies of the impact of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, a large-scale publicly funded preschool program serving disadvantaged children in that city's public school system.
The estimates for California were made assuming that a part-day universal preschool program would reach 70 percent of the estimated 550,000 4-year-olds living in California in each of the next 10 years. The report estimates that this level of universal preschool enrollment would result in: 9,100 fewer children in special education programs at some point during their school years; 10,000 fewer high school dropouts; 4,700 fewer children with a substantial case of abuse or neglect; and 7,300 fewer children involved in the juvenile court system. Overall, these statewide numbers amount a 5 to 19 percent drop over current levels.
These estimates are based on the assumption that the preschools would follow quality standards such as having low student-teacher ratios and requiring college-educated teachers. These standards exceed those used for California's current public-supported preschool programs.
The largest benefits of universal preschool would be seen in Los Angeles County – California's most populous – with drops in the need for special education instruction and cuts in juvenile crime that would exceed the percentage changes expected to be seen across the state.
Researchers also estimate that the Central Valley and the Inland Empire would receive benefits in several categories that would exceed the rate seen across the state.
The RAND report estimates the benefits that would be created by a high-quality, universal preschool program for the 13 California counties expected to have the largest number of 4-year-olds over the next 10 years. The counties are Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Sacramento, Alameda, Fresno, Contra Costa, Kern, San Joaquin and Ventura.
In addition, researchers estimate benefits for five additional population areas — the Bay Area (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma counties); the Capital Region (El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, and Yolo counties); the Central Coast (Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties); Central Valley (Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare counties); and the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino counties).
Among the findings:
- In Los Angeles County, for each group of 4-year-olds who complete a year of preschool instruction the number of children using special education would drop 6 to 11 percent, high school dropouts would decline 11 percent and the number of children involved in the juvenile court system would drop 10 to 14 percent.
- In Orange County, the number of children in special education would drop 4 to 7 percent and the number of high school dropouts would decline 21 percent.
- In San Diego County, the number of children in special education would be cut 5 to 7 percent and the number of high school dropouts would fall by 11 percent.
- The Bay Area would see a 3 to 5 percent drop in the number of children in special education, an 11 percent cut in high school dropouts and a 4 to 6 percent decline in number of children involved in the juvenile court system.
- In the Capital Region, the number of children using special education would drop 5 to 8 percent, the number of high school dropouts would decline 13 percent and the number of children involved in the juvenile court system would drop 7 to 9 percent.
- The Inland Empire would see a 6 to 10 percent drop in the number of children in special education, a 16 cut in high school dropouts and an 8 to 11 percent decline in the number of children involved in the juvenile court system.
- In the Central Coast, the number of children in special education would drop 5 to 7 percent and the number of high school dropouts would be cut 28 percent.
- The Central Valley would see a 8 to 13 percent drop in the number of children in special education, a 22 percent cut in high school dropouts and a 7 to 9 percent decline in number of children involved in the juvenile court system.
The findings are from a report that builds on a previous RAND study that examined the potential economic benefit to California society of a high-quality universal preschool program. In a report released in March, RAND researchers estimated that such a program would create $2.62 in short-term and long-term benefits for California society for every $1 invested.
Preschool education is an increasingly common experience for the nation's young children, with 66 percent of the country's 4-year-olds and 43 percent of 3-year-olds enrolled in some type of program during 2001. In California, about 65 percent of the state's 4-year-olds are enrolled in some type of preschool.
California's current state-funded preschool program targets children who are at risk of school failure, reaching about 9 percent of the state's 4-year-olds in 2002-2003. The federal government also supports preschool education targeted to disadvantaged children, primarily through the Head Start program that serves about 900,000 children nationally.
The RAND study was funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The study was conducted through the RAND Labor and Population Program, which examines issues involving U.S. labor markets, the demographics of families and children, social welfare policy, the social and economic functioning of the elderly, and economic and social change in developing countries.
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