Unmet Need for Preschool Services in California: Statewide and Local Analysis

California is home to more than one million three- and four-year-old children—a larger preschool population than in any other state, representing roughly 13 percent of this age group across the United States. However, while California leads the nation in its number of young children, the state is ranked among the 15 states producing the worst outcomes for youth, judged by such measures as high school graduation and exposure to poverty.

Although California’s investments in early care and education are increasing, large numbers of the state’s neediest preschool children still do not have access to early childhood education programs. This brief presents an analysis of the unmet need for preschool services in California at the state and local levels and concludes with a more detailed discussion of the policy implications of these findings.

Findings and Policy Implications

The analysis found that at least 33,209 four-year-olds and 136,588 three-year-olds will remain unserved in quality programs. Policy recommendations include the following:

  • The state should work to assign a unique identifier for each child enrolled in a program to allow a better understanding of the extent of dual enrollment and, ultimately, the reasons for it.
  • The state should provide higher reimbursement rates to better support state standards of quality.
  • The state might consider a formula that factors in both criteria for unmet need—number and percentage of eligible children not currently enrolled—when allocating new slots.
  • The state should continue to increase resources for the State Preschool Program so that more children have the advantage of two years of high-quality early childhood education.