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Early Childhood Programs Missing Many Minority Children

HeadStart-blog.jpgPrograms such as Head Start and child-care subsidies are intended to support the nation's neediest children. 

But a newly released analysis from The Center for Law and Social Policy has found that certain racial and ethnic groups that have disproportionate numbers of needy children are also less likely to access the programs meant to help them. 

In the report Disparate Access: Head Start and CCDBG Data by Race and Ethnicity, CLASP analysts Stephanie Schmit and Christina Walker conducted a state-by-state check of the children who are enrolled in Head Start, the federally funded preschool program for low-income children, as well as which children are receiving subsidies through the Child Care Development Block Grant. The subsidy program uses federal and state funds to help parents pay for child care while they work or go to school. 

Among the findings:

  • Eligible Hispanic or Latino children have sharply lower access to child care block grant funds than eligible children of other races and ethnicities. Thirteen percent of eligible children ages 0-13 and 21 percent of eligible black children receive child-care assistance through the block grant, but only 8 percent of eligible Hispanic or Latino children get help.
  • No more than 6 percent of eligible children in any racial or ethnic group are enrolled in Early Head Start, which serves children from infancy through age 2.
  • Access to these programs varied dramatically by state. For example, access to child-care assistance for black children ranged from 3 percent of eligible children in Maine to 42 percent of eligible black children living in Pennsylvania. For eligible Hispanic children, the access rate ranged from 1 percent in Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina to a high of 12 percent in New Jersey. 
  • Head Start, which serves children ages 3 to 5, enrolled eligible Latino children at a rate of 13 percent in South Carolina to 84 percent in Minnesota. This figure does not include the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program, which is almost 100 percent Latino children. Migrant and Seasonal Head Start accounts for 3 percent of children enrolled in Head Start nationwide. 

Schmit, one of the report's co-authors, said that this information should be particularly helpful to state policymakers, who are in the process of revamping their subsidy programs to meet new requirements put into place when a reauthorized child care block grant program was passed in 2014. An easy answer to the low take-up among some programs is that they're underfunded relative to the children who need them. But there could also be state policies in place that make it harder for families that qualify for these programs to take advantage of them. 

"There's low access overall and there's a lot left to discover about why that is," Schmit said. "The reason this matters is that we really know how important access to early childhood education is, and how important it is to low-income children. Having this information is something that can lead to action."

File Photo: Niahla Johnson peeks out from her class line after recess at Skelly Early Childhood Education Center in Tulsa, Okla. in 2010.—Shane Bevel for Education Week

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