March 19, 2019

Young Children Not in School: Steady National Figure Masks Big Changes in the States

Going all the way back to 2007–2009 and continuing through 2015–2017, the three-year average share of 3- and 4-year-olds not in school had been either 52% or 53%, with the actual number of children hovering between 4,223,000 and 4,421,000.

From a national perspective, it’s one of the most stable indicators of children’s well-being that can be found on the KIDS COUNT Data Center. But at a more local level, it’s a story of remarkable and — in some places — troubling trends, with the percentages of young children in school rising significantly in some states and falling quickly in others over the past decade or so.

Taking a closer look at these data is important. Attending prekindergarten can help ensure kids are ready for school, with the highest-risk children accruing the greatest gains.

The District of Columbia had the smallest percentage of young children not in school: just 25% of 3- and 4-year-olds were not enrolled, per the most recent available data. Connecticut (35%), New Jersey (36%) and Puerto Rico (37%) followed.

The data across time tell different stories. Puerto Rico’s share has fallen from a recent high of 46% (2008–2010); Connecticut’s and New Jersey’s numbers remained relatively steady throughout the decade; and the District of Columbia’s figure fell from 33% (2007–2009) to 19% before rising to 25%.

The statistical trajectories of states with high percentages of young children not in school are similarly distinct. North Dakota’s 2015–2017 rate of 69% — a national high — was close to its 2007-2009 rate of 67%. But Arizona’s rate of 61% in 2015–2017 — though high — represents a nosedive from 67% in 2008–2010. Nevada also saw its rate drop over time — from 70% in 2007–2009 to 63% in 2015–2017. Trending in the other direction: Hawaii had a 2015–2017 figure of 54%, reflecting a significant jump from 45% in 2007–2009. And in Kentucky, the share of 3- and 4-year-olds not in school rose from 54% to 59% over the same time frame.