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U.S. Trails Other Industrialized Nations When It Comes to Preschool, Study Finds

The United States lags behind other industrialized nations when it comes to enrolling children in preschool, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The OECD's annual "Education at a Glance" report finds that in 2015 just 43 percent of 3-year-olds in the U.S. were enrolled in preschool. The average enrollment for other countries in the OECD was 73 percent.

Denmark, France, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom had the highest rates of enrollment for 3-year-olds. Each exceeded 96 percent.

The U.S. did a little better in enrolling 4-year-olds in preschool with 66 percent taking advantage of early-childhood education in 2015. But that still trailed the OECD average of 87 percent.

Kris Perry is the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a nonprofit that advocates for federal government support of high-quality early-childhood education programs for disadvantaged children from birth to age 5. She calls the OECD findings encouraging.

"While the United States can—and should—be doing more to ensure more children have access to a high-quality early-childhood education, progress is happening at all levels," wrote Perry in an email. "I'm encouraged by the bipartisan leadership across the country, and the increased focus on the need to reach more children—especially those from low-income families."

Growth in Preschool Enrollment

Between 2005 to 2015, OECD countries increased their preschool enrollment numbers of 3- and 4-year-olds from 54 percent to 73 percent and from 76 percent to 87 percent respectively.

Australia, Chile, Korea, Poland, and the Russian Federation had the largest increases in enrollment of 4-year-olds, climbing more than 30 percent during that time period.

The OECD report comes as more communities across the U.S. are pushing to provide early-childhood education programs for 3- and 4-year-olds. Just this school year, New York City began offering a "3-K for All" program. The publicly funded program has a goal to provide this service for free to every New Yorker who wants it.

The latest report by the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIEER, found that state spending on preschool programs increased during the 2015-16 school year, jumping to nearly $7.4 billion, a $564 million increase from the previous school year.

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