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.