Homeless Students in Pre-Kindergarten

Pre-Kindergarten for children ages 3 to 5 is recognized as a crucial building block for ensuring school readiness for all children. In the 2016–17 school year, 1.52 million children across the country attended state-funded pre-K, a 13% increase from the 2013­–14 school year (1.35 million). Despite an overall trend of pre-K expansion, program availability, quality, and design can still vary widely between states, cities, and even within districts. In the 2016–17 school year, 44 states and the District of Columbia invested state funds into pre-K programs, but not all prioritize homeless students for enrollment. Of all states with pre-K programs, only about half (23) included homelessness or unstable housing as an eligibility factor in addition to income.

This ranking shows how well states identify and enroll homeless children in pre–K by measuring the ratio of homeless students enrolled in preschool to low-income children (children in families earning less than the federal poverty level) in preschool. By comparing the number of homeless and low-income students, it is possible to control for varying levels of poverty between states. States with higher ratios may be more likely to have made pre-K more widely available, especially to low-income families, and to have identified those already enrolled who are experiencing housing instability and may qualify for services under the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness.

Funding for pre-K programs is often a combination of local, state, and federal sources, though in recent years the type of federal funding available has undergone significant changes. Prior to 2019, eighteen states received federal funding through the competitive Preschool Development Grant to support both the development and expansion of pre-K. This grant has since been replaced with the Preschool Development Birth to Five Grant program, as authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which funds a larger number of states and territories (46) at lower amounts to support birth-through-five needs assessment and strategic planning.

Hover over a state and click through the years to see how the rankings have changed over time. Click on a state to learn more.

Notes: Both Delaware and Wyoming did not identify any homeless pre-Kindergarteners in SY 2016–17 and, therefore, tied for 50th on the Pre-K rankings.

The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of homeless students in pre-K, with over half (54.7%) of low-income students identified as homeless. The District of Columbia also had the largest increase in its ratio of homeless to low-income children in pre-K, up from 21.6% in 2014. Two other states (Oregon and Nevada) also identified over 20% of low-income pre-K students as experiencing housing instability. Delaware and Wyoming both reported no homeless students enrolled in pre-K.