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Why Aren't Low-Income Children in Silicon Valley Attending Preschool?

While 64 percent of children from non-low-income families attend preschool in Silicon Valley, only 48 percent of 4-year-olds from low-income families do, according to two reports released in January by the Urban Institute, a think tank. 

The gap in preschool attendance is even larger for 3-year-olds. Forty-two percent of children from families earning more than 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline ($48,500 annually for a family of four) attend preschool in the two California counties that make up Silicon Valley, while only 24 percent of 3-year-olds from low-income families there attend preschool. The report found that children from low-income immigrant families were the least likely to attend. Only 45 percent of 4-year-olds and 19 percent of 3-year-olds whose parents are low-income immigrants attend preschool. 

Among the seven main reasons the report found for the discrepancy, the first is the unusually high cost of living in Silicon Valley. MIT's Living Wage Calculator found that a family of four needed to earn annual pay of $63,044 and $58,864 in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, respectively, in order to stay off government services. Housing costs alone are more than four time the national average, according to the Urban Institute report.

Researchers found that large numbers of low-income families had left the two counties, leaving some social services programs, including preschools, devoid of clients. Interestingly, many families who make too much to qualify for free or subsidized care often still can't afford licensed private care. Qualifications for free and subsidized care are set based on national and state averages that do not apply to the cost of living in Silicon Valley. 

Compounding the issue is the cost of transportation in these sprawling suburban communities, which have little public transportation beyond a basic bus system. And directly related to that is the problem of finding child-care centers with hours that line up with parents' work schedules.

Lack of parental knowledge and the overwhelming paperwork involved in determining eligibility for free or subsidized care were also cited as barriers to preschool participation, especially for the children of low-income immigrants.

Finally, the report cites the underfunding of the two primary programs providing preschool for children from low-income families: Head Start and California State Preschool. Neither has sufficient capacity to serve all eligible children in the state.

Read both reports for more information and several suggested strategies for addressing the many barriers to preschool participation in the world's hottest technology economy.

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