Public Prekindergarten Expansion and Children's School Readiness: Examining Effects of the Virgina Preschool Initiative Plus Program on Early Educational Experiences and Early Literacy Skills

Michah Rothbart, Syracuse University
Taryn Morrissey, American University

Working Paper No. 25

Description/Abstract

While previous research documents the direct benefits of preschool for those who attend, less is known about how the availability of public preschool indirectly affects the early educational experiences, preschool attendance patterns, and school readiness measures in a population of children more broadly. This study uses administrative data from Virginia of first-time kindergarteners from 2007 to 2019 (about 1,000,000 students) to better understand associations between public preschool availability, patterns of prekindergarten participation, and school readiness. We exploit discrete expansions in the Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus (VPI+) program and propensity weighted estimators to estimate public prekindergarten expansions’ effects on children’s patterns of early education attendance and literacy skills upon kindergarten entry for students in expansion districts. Findings indicate that residency in a VPI+ district increases the probability that students attend a public prekindergarten and (perhaps surprisingly) private center in the year prior to kindergarten by about 5-6 and 2-3 percentage points, respectively, while decreasing the probability of attending Head Start, unlicensed homes, or having no observed prekindergarten arrangement. Increases in hours per week in preschool settings are consistent in direction and magnitude with compositional shifts in prekindergarten setting. We also find improvements in literacy skills in the fall of kindergarten for students in a VPI+ expansion district (of about 6-7 percent of a standard deviation, and 1 percentage point decrease in the probability that students arrive below benchmark). Results demonstrate the community-wide effects of public preschool for patterns of early care and education participation and children’s outcomes in early elementary school (potentially previously unmeasured benefits), with implications for policy and research.