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California's preschools are deeply segregated, new report finds

Preschools around the United States and in California are deeply segregated, a new report from Penn State finds. 

Around the country, white children are overwhelmingly going to preschool with only other white children, and more than half of all black and Latino children under five attend preschool where 90 percent of the students are children of color.

That's also the case in California, one of two states with the lowest enrollment of white children in public preschool programs.

In fact, a smaller proportion of white children in California are enrolled in public preschools than in the state’s K-12 public school, the report finds.

Furthermore, California’s Latino preschoolers are “likely to be in racially isolated nonwhite schools but such schools also offer little cross-racial exposure, such as to other students of color.”

“The typical Hispanic preschool student attends a school with more than three-quarters of students who are same-race peers,” the report states. 

Socioeconomic status largely determines where children go to preschool in California, though the report was unable determine family income from the federal data set used.

In large school districts in California, like LAUSD, only children whose family income is at the poverty line are eligible for public preschool. Head Start programs are also means-tested and while new rules allow centers to accept fee-paying families, the majority of Head Start programs only serve low-income kids. In California, poor kids are overwhelmingly children of color.

Erica Frankenberg, the author of the report and associate professor of education and demography at Penn State University, said research clearly finds that in segregated schools, children of color receive a lesser quality education.

“These students are not getting the same type of social and academic benefits that wealthier and white children who are in these racially isolated white settings are getting,” Frankenberg said.

KPCC will be delving into what preschool segregation looks like here in California in the coming months. You can take a survey to help the reporting.