What does this indicator measure?
This indicator measures the percentage 3 and 4-year olds in school.
The connection to health
Every child should have the chance to learn, grow, and thrive. Early childhood is a crucial period for brain development, shaping nearly every aspect of one’s future health and wellbeing.1, 2 Quality preschool is important for healthy development, and has been associated with lifelong educational, economic and health benefits.3 Quality preschool is associated with a 40% higher rate of graduating high school, higher college attendance and grade retention, and lower placement in special education programs.4 Yet preschool is not universally required in California. Therefore, many children arrive to elementary school behind in school-readiness—increasing the likelihood that they will remain behind throughout their education. Education is linked to increased life expectancy and reduced chronic disease rates, infant mortality and other negative health outcomes. Education contributes to health in many ways: high school graduates are more likely to find quality jobs with living wages and decent working conditions; school-based learning contributes to the knowledge and cognitive skills necessary to make healthy choices; and students learn social and physiological benefiting skills including problem solving, teamwork, self-control, social support, and life skills. Preschool enrollment in California reflects persistent racial and ethnic inequities, with Asian American (64%) and White (67%) children enrolled at higher numbers than Black (60%) and Latino (55%) children.5
Where to start?
Improving preschool enrollment requires a range of policies designed to improve access to early childhood education and wellness, and to ensure that community conditions support healthy development.
The preschool and childcare system in California is fractured, expensive and difficult to access for many families, particularly low- and moderate-income households. To address these conditions jurisdictions should Create Opportunities for Early Learning by supporting affordable and universal opportunities for preschool and early childhood education. Infancy and early childhood are crucial periods for brain development, and children need parental care and additional support for healthy development.23 Jurisdictions should support Early Childhood Wellness with programs targeting the needs of young children and caregivers.
Even the best childcare and education programs cannot be successful without attention to the broader community conditions that shape child development and health. Jurisdictions should Foster Community and Parent Participation to ensure that education and childcare systems are responsive, relevant, powerful, and integrated with broader community transformation initiatives. They should also seek broader Community Transformation to address the root causes of poor health such as economic opportunity, safety and stable housing.