The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the challenges parents face in finding high-quality, affordable preschool. As California prepares to expand its Transitional Kindergarten program to all four-year-olds by fall 2025, how do residents view preschool education today? Our April PPIC Statewide Survey shows that while many see preschool as important to student success, affordability remains a concern. In addition, overwhelming majorities support voluntary, state-funded preschool for all four-year-olds.
When asked how important attending preschool is for student success in grades K–12, three in four Californians continue to view it as important, a finding that has held steady in recent years. This view is widespread, with four in ten or more across regional and demographic groups seeing preschool education as very important.
Notably, parents are more likely than adults overall to consider preschool very important (57% vs. 47%). Partisan differences are present, with majorities of Democrats (57%) saying preschool is very important, while fewer independents (41%) and Republicans (34%) hold this view. Across regions, Los Angeles residents are the most likely to say preschool is very important, and across racial/ethnic groups, African Americans are the most likely to hold this view.
Today eight in ten Californians and parents say that the affordability of preschool is a problem, with nearly four in ten calling it a big problem. Across regional and demographic groups, more than eight in ten say affordability is at least somewhat of a problem.
Californians with higher levels of educational attainment and higher incomes (above $80,000) are more likely to view preschool affordability as a big problem. Democrats (48%) and independents (38%) are also more likely than Republicans (27%) to view affordability as a big problem. Across racial/ethnic groups, whites are the most likely to say affordability is a big problem, while Latinos are the least likely to say this.
Only 37% of California four-year-olds are enrolled in Transitional Kindergarten or another public preschool program, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. When asked whether California should fund voluntary preschool programs for all four-year olds in the state, strong majorities of Californians, likely voters, and parents are in favor.
There is a wide partisan divide on funding preschool, with overwhelming shares of Democrats and independents in favor, compared to half of Republicans. And while there is strong support across regions, residents in Los Angeles are more likely than others to say the state should fund preschool for all four-year-olds. More than six in ten Californians across demographic groups support this policy, but support is highest among African Americans and Latinos, as well as among those with incomes less than $80,000.
High-quality preschool programs are a proven way to reduce gaps in kindergarten readiness—and they yield other long-term benefits as well, including improved high school graduation rates and earnings for preschool graduates.
As the state prepares to implement universal preschool for four-year-olds, join PPIC researchers and external experts for a discussion on Thursday, May 12, about ensuring equitable access during this process. And stay tuned to the PPIC Statewide Survey as we continue to track Californians’ views and policy preferences on preschool and early childhood education.