Change Indicator

Children ages 3 to 4 without access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k in Pennsylvania

Children ages 3 to 4 without access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k

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Why This Indicator Matters

The experiences and interactions that young children have early in life significantly affect their brain development and establish the foundation for all future learning.[1] High-quality pre-k focuses on nurturing children’s minds during these critical years of growth to ensure they enter kindergarten with the skills needed to thrive.[2] Quality early childhood education has been linked to numerous positive outcomes, including increased executive functioning and social skills, higher academic achievement and high school graduation rates, lower criminal involvement, better health, and higher earnings.[3] Data also reveal that achievement gaps between the poorest and wealthiest Americans exist before children even enter kindergarten and these disparities are continuing to grow overtime.[4] This makes access essential for all children’s short- and long-term success, especially those from disadvantaged families.

While there is no universal definition for “high-quality” pre-k, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has established 10 minimum policy benchmarks for highly effective preschool programs.[5] Based on NIEER’s analysis, to be considered high-quality, pre-k programs must follow early learning and development standards, employ well educated and trained teachers, have small class sizes with a staff to child ratio of 1:10 or better, and use continuous quality improvement systems. Pennsylvania’s quality improvement system is known as Keystone STARS and provides participating early learning programs with a quality rating score from STAR 1 to STAR 4, with the higher STAR level representing higher quality standards.[6] Programs must meet certain quality standards relating to staff education, learning environment, leadership/management, and family/community partnerships at each STAR level.

[1] Workman, S. & Ullrich, R. (2017). Quality 101: Identifying the Core Components of a High-Quality Early Childhood Program. Center for American Progress.

[2] City of Philadelphia. (2024) Quality Pre-K. Office of Children and Families.,rates%2C%20and%20higher%20earning%20potential.

[3] Schoch, A., Gerson, C., Halle, T., & Bredeson, M. (2023). Children’s Learning and Development Benefits from High-Quality Early Care and Education: A Summary of the Evidence. Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[4] Child Trends. (2018). High-Quality Preschool can Support Healthy Development and Learning.

[5] National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). (2019). Download NIEER’s Benchmark for High-Quality Pre-K.

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Definition and Source



Publicly funded, high-quality pre-k: Includes the distinct count of PA Pre-K Counts, Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program and Child Care Works enrollments in Keystone STARS 3 and 4; Head Start; and school district pre-k.

Data Source

PPC creates interactive maps with statistics by county, legislative district, and school district. Please go to for links to the maps and fact sheets.


County-level estimates were not produced in 2016.

S = Suppressed.

Last Updated

May 2024