Washington, DC’s Universal Pre-K program began in the 1960s and significantly expanded after the 2008 Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Amendment Act (Pre-K Act). In 2022, 83% of the District’s population of 4-year-olds were enrolled in Universal Pre-KUniversal Pre-K: programs in which the sole eligibility criterion is age. classrooms. DC’s universal program is made accessible through a mixed-delivery model, which includes classrooms in the DC Public Schools, public charter schools, and in community-based child care organizations. Today, the District has the highest percentage of both 3- and 4-year-olds served by a state-run program in the entire United States. The program is overseen by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).
District of Columbia Public Schools. (2022). Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten Enrollment, Promotions, and Retentions Frequently Asked Questions for Parents and Guardians
District of Columbia Public Schools. (n.d.). Early Learning
National Institute for Early Education Research. (2022). District of Columbia
Connections to Key Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) Findings:
Learn More about ELS@H Findings
High-quality, affordable early education and care supports children’s healthy development and allows families to work, engage in their own educational pursuits, and/or participate in other aspects of community life. To support children and families in these instrumental ways, research suggests there is a need to expand the availability of early education opportunities across the mixed-delivery system.
Findings from the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) show:
- Families rely on a range of formal (e.g., Head Start, center-based care, public pre-K) and more informal (e.g., home-based, relative care) early education settings; when choosing a setting for their child, families balance many logistical constraints and personal preferences.
- But for many families – and especially low- and middle-income families – early education choices remain tightly constrained due to issues of affordability and supply.