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The Effects of Universal Preschool on Washington, D.C.

Public preschool has many important benefits, including providing some parents the opportunity to re-enter the labor force or increase the number of hours they work, improving families’ economic success. Recognizing this, in 2009, Washington, D.C., began offering two years of universal, full-day preschool across its public schools, public charters, and some private preschool programs.

As of 2017, about 90% of 4-year-olds and 70% 3-year-olds in D.C. were enrolled in publicly funded preschool through the expansion. In The Effects of Universal Preschool in Washington, D.C., Rasheed Malik, a senior policy analyst for the Center for American Progress, focuses on the relationship between this increase in preschool participation and maternal labor force participation for mothers with a child younger than 5 years old in D.C.

The analysis indicates that since 2009, D.C.’s maternal labor force participation rate has increased by about 12 percentage points, with 10 of those percentage points related to preschool expansion. Now mothers in D.C. with children under 5 years old participate in the labor force at approximately the same rate as mothers in D.C. with kids in elementary school. Such results could be promising for universal preschool expansion as a national policy for broad economic growth.