Early Childhood

Hispanic Preschool Participation Varies by State

By Sean Chalk & Holly Kurtz — January 15, 2015 2 min read
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Hispanics are the nation’s largest minority group, comprising a quarter of all 3-and-4-year-olds.

They also have the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race in the United States, 39 percent as compared to about 50 percent for Asians, African-Americans, and whites. But that rate, reported last week in Education Week’s Quality Counts 2015: Preparing to Launch: Early Childhood’s Academic Countdown, varies considerably by state.

State-level gaps

Nationwide, the gap between participation rates for Hispanic and non-Hispanic 3-and-4-year-olds is 11.5 percentage points, according to a follow-up analysis of the same American Community Survey data included in Quality Counts 2015. However, that gap can be as high as 27.9 percentage points in Mississippi. By contrast, in two states, West Virginia and Montana, Hispanics are actually more likely to participate in preschool than are non-Hispanics. A caveat is that, for this follow-up analysis, we excluded two states, Vermont and Maine, because they had so few Hispanic 3-and-4-year-olds.

Hispanic Preschool Population Gaps and Enrollment Rates

Source: Education Week Research Center Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

State-level rates

Turning from the preschool participation gaps to preschool participation rates, the states with the highest Hispanic participation rates tend to be the same states with high levels of participation for non-Hispanic children as well. For example, New Jersey has the highest Hispanic preschool enrollment rate at 58 percent. New Jersey also ranks number 2 for its non-Hispanic preschool participation rate of 63 percent.

At the other end of the scale is North Dakota‘s Hispanic participation rate of 17.5 percent. The state also ranks toward the bottom of the list for its non-Hispanic participation rate of 38.9 percent.

Gaps and rates in states with large percentages of Hispanic children

One caution about this analysis is that states with the very largest and the very smallest gaps have relatively small Hispanic populations. Take West Virginia and Montana for example. These are the two states in which Hispanics enroll at higher rates than their non-Hispanic peers. In these states, Hispanics comprise 2.4 percent and 5.1 percent of the total preschool-aged populations, respectively. So we broke out the nine states in which the percentage of Hispanic 3-and-4-year-olds exceeds the national average of 25.2 percent. Combined, these states are home to about two thirds of the nation’s Hispanic preschoolers.

Among these states, New Jersey again fares well, with the smallest Hispanic-non-Hispanic gap (8.8 percentage points) and the highest overall Hispanic enrollment (58 percent). By contrast, the gap in Arizona is 16.8 percentage points and the Hispanic participation rate in Nevada is 35 percent. Closing the gap in these nine states would involve enrolling large numbers of children in preschool. In California alone, a quarter of a million Hispanic 3-and-4-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool.

Hispanic Preschool Population Gap and Enrollment Rates for States With Hispanic Preschool Populations Exceeding the National Average

Source: Education Week Research Center Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.