This week during a meeting with journalists, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan raised concerns about the low enrollment rates of Latino children in preschool.
“Less than half of Hispanic children attend any kind of preschool — that’s kind of staggering,” Duncan said Wednesday, according to an article in The Washington Post. “This is the fastest-growing population and a lower-than-average participation rate.”
According to The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report, about 63 percent of Hispanics who were three and four year olds between 2008 and 2010 did not attend preschool. That’s a lower rate than the 53 percent average of students not attending preschool. It also was the lowest rate when compared with Asian, white, black, and Native American children.
Duncan said the roots of the problem can be attributed to challenges such as a lack of access to preschool, but also because Latino families are reluctant to enroll their children.
According to the Learning the Language blog, Duncan shared that when he led the Chicago Public Schools, evening kindergarten classes between 3-6 p.m. were offered in Latino communities where there were waiting lists for earlier classes.
“People thought we were crazy,” Duncan said, according to the blog. “But we had a huge take-up on that. You have to be creative about how you provide the opportunities.”
Duncan’s comments come as President Obama pushes for universal preschool for 4-year-olds. In his proposed budget, he wants the federal government to help pay for preschool for the states by increasing the federal tobacco tax. According to the Post, that could generate $75 billion over ten years.
A separate Washington Post article reported that several hundred business leaders sent a letter to Congress and the White House supporting more federal spending on preschool.