History of Preschool in the United States

Head Start, the first publicly funded preschool program, was created in 1965 by President Johnson. The federal government helped create this half-day program for preschool children from low-income families. Head Start began as a summer pilot program that included an education component, nutrition and health screenings for children, and support services for families. In the 1960s only ten percent of the nations three and four year olds were enrolled in a classroom setting. Due to a large amount of people interested, and a lack of funding for Head Start, during the 1980s a handful of states started their own version of a program for students from low-income families. The positive success and effects of preschool meant many state leaders were showing interest in educational reform of these young students. By 2005 sixty-nine percent, or over 800,000, four year-old children nationwide participated in some type of state preschool program. The yearly increase in enrollment of preschool programs throughout the years is due to an increase of higher maternal employment rates, national anti-poverty initiatives, and research showing the link between early childhood experiences and the brain development of young children. These factors have caused the rate of attendance in preschool programs to grow each year.

In most states, there are multiple preschool or Pre-K options for young children. Parents have the choice of sending their child to a federally funded Head Start program, if their income is at the poverty level, state-funded preschool, government-funded special education programs, and for-profit and not-for-profit providers, including those that accept government subsidies that help low income parents pay. Currently, in the United States, Georgia, Illinois, Florida, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and New York are the only states with legislation underway or which already have universal preschool for all four year olds in the state, and Preschool For All in Illinois is the only universal preschool program that serves three year olds as well.