3- and 4-Year-Olds Enrolled in School

Early childhood education can support children’s social development, academic growth, and parents’ employment opportunities. Expanding preschool access is seen as one way to bridge educational and opportunity gaps that emerge among children before they reach kindergarten, including differences by gender, number of parents in the household, socio-economic status, and race.[1],[2] Currently, neither preschool nor kindergarten are mandatory in California and children may not enter kindergarten until five years of age.[3]
High-quality early childhood education may support improved educational attainment and adult earnings[4] and even have effects on those children’s children and non-participating siblings.[5] Other studies demonstrate that pre-kindergarten, Head Start, and similar programs show a greater benefit for children with low cognitive test scores as toddlers, parents with a high school diploma or lower education, single parents, children living in poverty, and more.[6],[7] Early care and education may help sustain healthier, wealthier families by giving parents more time to work, which may also increase students’ educational opportunities down the road.[8]
Due to the benefits of early education, this report measures the proportion of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school. This is calculated by using the proportion of 3- and 4-year-olds whose head of household reported to the ACS that the children had attended school at any time in the last three months. The question text in the ACS specifically notes that the term “school” includes “nursery” and “preschool”, although respondents may include prekindergarten, transitional kindergarten, and other similar programs.[9],[10]
In 2021 in San Diego County, 46.7% of 3- and 4-year-olds in San Diego County were enrolled in school. This represents a decline from 2020, when 49.4% of San Diego County 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in school.[11] There were large gaps in school enrollment by race/ethnicity and immigrant status in 2021. Over half of White and Multiracial children were enrolled in school, which was higher than the percentages of all other racial groups, except for Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander children (73.7%) (Figure 1).  The percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school with a reported disability was higher compared to those without a reported disability (Figure 3). Among immigrants, the enrollment percentage was higher compared to non-immigrants (Figure 4). Enrollment rates by ZCTA are shown in Figure 5.
The State of California passed Assembly Bill (AB) 130 in 2021 to expand access to early education programs and make other programmatic and budget changes related to education. This bill requires that every local education agency that offer kindergarten must also offer free transitional kindergarten (full day or partial day) by the 2025-2026 school year to all students that will turn 4 years of age by September 1. Referred to as Universal Transitional Kindergarten, the program is intended to ensure all 4-year-olds regardless of income, race/ethnicity, location, and background have access to education programs before kindergarten. AB 130 also established the California Prekindergarten Planning and Implementation Grant Program to provide funding for educational agencies that need assistance with establishing or expanding preschool or prekindergarten programs.[12],[13]

Data Information
Figures 1-4 Data Source: 2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates from IPUMS USA.
  • Persons of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity may belong to any race group. All categories except Hispanic or Latino include persons for whom race is known but ethnicity is non-Hispanic or unknown.
Figure 5 Data Source: 2021 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates, Table S1401.
  • The ACS produces estimates based on a sample of the population. Percentages at or near 0% or 100% should be interpreted with caution.
  • Unavailable data include ZCTAs that are not defined by the U.S. Census Bureau and ZCTAs with missing or censored data.
  1. National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Preschool: First Findings From the Third Follow-up of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). Retrieved October 31, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/preschool3/findings.asp
  2. Wang, A. (2008). A Pre-Kindergarten Achievement Gap? Scope and Implications. U.S. China Education Review, 5(9), 23-31.
  3. CA Dept of Education. (n.d.). Kindergarten Frequently Asked Questions—Elementary. Retrieved March 2, 2023, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/gs/em/kindergartenfaq.asp
  4. Campbell, F. A., Ramey, C. T., Pungello, E., Sparling, J., & Miller-Johnson, S. (2002). Early childhood education: Young adult outcomes from the Abecedarian Project. Applied Developmental Science, 6(1), 42–57. https://doi.org/10.1207/S1532480XADS0601_05
  5. Heckman, J. J., & Karapakula, G. (2019). Intergenerational and intragenerational externalities of the Perry Preschool Project (NBER Working Paper Series). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w25889/w25889.pdf
  6. Lee, R., Zhai, F., Brooks-Gunn, J., Han, W.-J., & Waldfogel, J. (2014). Head Start participation and school readiness: Evidence from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort December 10, 2012. Developmental Psychology, 50(1), 202–215. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032280
  7. Magnuson, K. A., Meyers, M. K., Ruhm, C. J., & Waldfogel, J. (2004). Inequality in preschool education and school readiness. American Educational Research Journal, 41(1), 115–157. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312041001115
  8. Morrissey, T.W. & Warner, M.E. (2007). Why Early Care and Education Deserves as Much Attention, or More, than Prekindergarten Alone. Applied Development Science.11(2):57-70.
  9. Sample ACS & PRCS Forms and Instructions. (2022) Retrieved September 19, 2023, from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/about/forms-and-instructions.2021.html#list-tab-9466845
  10. Universal Prekindergarten FAQS. (n.d) California Department of Education. Retrieved September 19, 2023, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/gs/em/kinderfaq.asp
  11. U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.). S1401 – School Enrollment. Retrieved from https://data.census.gov/table?q=S1401&g=050XX00US06073&tid=ACSST5Y2020.S1401
  12. Universal Prekindergarten FAQS. (n.d) California Department of Education. Retrieved September 19, 2023, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/gs/em/kinderfaq.asp
  13. AB-130 Education Finance: Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill. (July 12 2021). California Legislative Information. Retrieved from, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB130
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Updated February 7, 2024