While previous research documents direct benefits of preschool for those who attend, less is known about how targeted expansions of public preschool to low-income households affects children’s early educational experiences, preschool attendance patterns, and school readiness in a broader community. This study uses administrative data from Virginia of first-time kindergarteners from 2011 to 2019 (about 630,000 students) and a discrete increase in targeted public pre-K (VPI+) to better understand the effects of expanding means-tested public preschool on patterns of prekindergarten participation and school readiness throughout the community. We find decreased probability that children in expansion districts spend no time in licensed settings (6-7 percentage points), and increased probability that children attend public pre-K (5-8 percentage points) and, perhaps surprisingly, private centers (2-3 percentage points). We also find improvements in kindergarten literacy skills (5-6% of a SD) for children in VPI+ expansion districts. Effects are larger for the target population (students from low-income households), but potential benefits are shared more broadly (perhaps through increased utilization of private centers). Targeted public preschool programs affect the broader community in terms of the type and number of hours of early care and education utilization, with consequences for children’s outcomes in early elementary school. These previously unmeasured benefits should inform future policy design and research.

Document Type

Working Paper




Public Prekindergarten, Early Childhood Education, Early Literacy Skills




Working Papers Series


Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Public Policy



Additional Information

Working Paper No. 250

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Included in

Public Policy Commons



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