M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 61

Access for All? The Political Economy of Support for Early Childhood Education

Auden Laurence



Early childhood education (ECE) programming offers one of the most promising strategies for reducing achievement gaps. However, access to state-funded pre-K varies widely by state. I develop a theory to explain the political economy of voter and legislator support for universal ECE. I evaluate my theoretical model using data on votes cast by voters and legislators for ECE-related policies in California. I also study the determinants of ECE policy outcomes across states using state-level panel data over 12 years. I find that there is an inverse relationship between median income in a community and support for public pre-K. Racially homogeneous communities are also more likely to support such programs. For legislators, political party matters above all else. Democrats are over 30 percentage points more likely to support the ECE policy considered. Proponents of public pre-K can expect to garner the greatest levels of support for ECE expansion from: racially homogeneous communities, low- and middle-income individuals, and Democrats.

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