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Moving from a Privilege to a Right: Exploring a Litigation Strategy to Secure Greater Access to Quality Preschool

Access to high-quality preschool is associated with a robust set of long-term outcomes, ranging from health and education, to employment outcomes. Although access to public preschool has increased in recent decades, it has been at a slow and uneven pace across the country. Issues of access accompany issues of quality. Much of the early care and education system is under-resourced and of low or unreliable quality.

Children of color and those with disabilities often have the least access to high-quality early learning opportunities. In fact, a recent analysis found that only 1% of Latino children and 5% of Black children are enrolled in high-quality Pre-K programs, as defined by the NIEER Annual Preschool Yearbook, which does not consider issues of cultural and linguistic responsivity in their definition of quality. What’s more, contrary to research-based best practice, data indicate that over half of preschoolers with disabilities still receive special education services in segregated settings. And, despite the fact that nearly 1 in 4 preschoolers are dual language learners, the majority of public preschool programs still provide instruction exclusively in English. It is clear that still, in 2020, access to high-quality public preschool is a privilege reserved for the few, not a right guaranteed to all.

It is against this backdrop that the Children’s Equity Project, with funding from the Heising Simons Foundation, is undertaking a new project to explore a litigation strategy to expand rights and resources for our youngest learners, including and especially those from historically marginalized communities. Through this effort, the CEP aims to better understand the legal and constitutional landscapes of children’s rights in states across the country. Through this project, we will examine relevant case law, state constitutions, and the intersection between existing policies and resources. We will review the legal landscape broadly, but will also look specifically at subgroups of children who are more likely to have a statutory right to services, including children with disabilities, those who are low-income, and those who are DLLs.

This project is led by

Founding Director

Shantel Meek, PhD
Professor of Practice
T. Denny School of Social and Family Dynamics, Arizona State University

Dr. Shantel Meek is a Professor of Practice and the Founding Director of the Children's Equity Project, a multi-university initiative that aims to close opportunity gaps between children from historically marginalized communities and their peers. Dr. Meek previously served in the Obama Administration as a Senior Policy Advisor for Early Childhood Development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and as a Senior Policy Advisor for Education in the Domestic Policy Council at the White House.

Eugene Garcia

Eugene E. García, PhD
Professor Emeritus
Arizona State University

Dr. Eugene García is Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University. He served as Vice President for Education Partnerships at ASU (2006-2011) and as Dean of the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education (2002-2006). Previously, he was a Professor and Dean of The Graduate School of Education (1995-2001) at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served as an elected member of a local school board and a Senior Officer in the US Department of Education during the Clinton administration. He has published extensively in areas of early learning, bilingual development, and equal educational opportunity.

Oscar Jiménez-Castellanos, PhD
Department of Education
Murchison Endowed Professor of Education
Trinity University in San Antonio
Executive Director
The Center for Educational Leadership

Oscar Jiménez-Castellanos, PhD, is the Chair of the Department of Education and Murchison Endowed Professor of Education at Trinity University in San Antonio. He also serves as Executive Director of the Center for Educational Leadership. Previously, Dr. Jiménez-Castellanos was an associate professor and Director of Educational Leadership as well as the Founding Director of the Latinx Education Research Center (LERC) at Santa Clara University. He also served as a visiting scholar in 2016-17 at University of California, Berkeley and affiliated with the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) at Stanford University. He began his academic career at Arizona State University where he served as assistant professor and associate professor.

Mario Cardona, JD
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Mario is an attorney in private practice in California. Previously, he served as a senior policy advisor on the White House Domestic Policy Council. In that role, he helped develop the administration’s legislative strategy, budget proposals, and policy initiatives focused on education. Prior to his service in the White House, Mario served as an advisor to senior members of the U.S. Senate, including as a principal advisor on early childhood issues to the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Mario has also served as an adjunct lecturer on federal policy at the University of California, Irvine.