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Study finds unequal preschool access across Los Angeles County

– Rapidly growing, working-class communities in Los Angeles display severe shortages of preschool programs, constraining children's early school performance, according to a new study released today (Wednesday, June 18) by researchers at an institute based at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Blue-collar Latino families are hit hardest, with just six or fewer preschool slots operating for every 100 children under five years of age in cities such as Baldwin Park, El Monte and Montebello. In stark contrast, researchers with the institute, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), found that families in affluent and middle-class Westside communities benefit from 69 preschool slots for every 100 resident children, on average.

An earlier study by PACE researchers revealed that more than 90,000 parents unsuccessfully search for preschool spaces in Los Angeles County each year. The latest study discovered, for the first time, wide gaps in availability among the southland's diverse ethnic communities.

The study arrives as families reshuffle child care schedules for the summer months, and as county leaders struggle to make good on their $100 million promise to provide universal access to preschool, funding allocated by the California Children and Families Commission in August 2002, almost a year ago.

The researchers unexpectedly uncovered a relatively high supply of preschool programs in the impoverished South Central area. "We were delighted to discover that 30 years of child care investments by the state has worked in Watts," said Bruce Fuller, UC Berkeley professor of education and policy and co-director of PACE. "It has resulted in stronger community organizations dedicated to helping families with young children."

"The bad news is that government has been slow to recognize the vast demographic shift to East L.A. and out toward Pomona," said Fuller. "This is where the children who most benefit from quality pre-schooling now live."

Over the past decade, researchers have established that young children from blue-collar and lower-income families show the strongest gains in cognitive growth and school readiness when enrolled in quality preschool programs, relative to children from economically better-off homes.

Scarce preschool slots, low school achievement

Predominately Latino communities display the lowest per capita availability of preschool slots for young children. Just five preschool spaces operate in El Monte, a city that is now 90 percent Latino, for every 100 children under age 5. The town of South Gate is 92 per cent Latino and hosts only seven preschool enrollment slots for every 100 young children.

In contrast, families in Santa Monica and north into the affluent west side of San Fernando Valley typically benefit from over 40 to 75 preschool enrollment slots for every 100 young children. The research team found, overall, the supply of preschool slots was twice as high in the wealthiest one-fourth of all Los Angeles ZIP codes, compared to the poorest quarter of ZIP codes.

Families in the far northern cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, where only about one-fourth of the population is of Hispanic origin, also face sharp scarcities of preschool programs with, respectively, just seven and four enrollment slots for every 100 young children. "Much is made of the achievement gap displayed by students in the public schools," said study co-author, Danny Shih-Cheng, a UC Berkeley doctoral student. "But these stark disparities in preschool availability mean that hundreds of thousands of young children are left behind even before they enter kindergarten."