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Despite Expansion, Many Pre-K Programs Fail To Reach Immigrant Kids


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. The neediest, poorest and fastest-growing population of preschoolers has little or no access to early childhood education. That's according to a new report. And its release comes even as more and more states are moving to expand early ed. The study says immigrant families are the least likely to enroll their kids in federal and state preschool programs. Here's NPR's Claudio Sanchez.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Young children whose parents were not born in this country make up a fourth of all children 0 to 8 years old. In California, they represent half - in Texas, New Jersey, New York and Nevada, more than a third. The parents of these children are likely to be low-income and poorly educated. Immigrant parents face so many hurdles, they often give up enrolling their kids in government-run preschool programs.

MARGIE MCHUGH: They were new to the U.S. very often. They didn't understand how to navigate a lot of these programs. And also the language that was being used just weren't clear to them.

SANCHEZ: Margie McHugh one of the co-authors of the study by the Migration Policy Institute, a bipartisan think tank. She says it's very hard for preschool programs to reach out to parents who don't know English and lack basic literacy skills. So it's not just kids missing out. Parents aren't getting any help either. She says adult education and preschool programs should be working together, but they're not.

MCHUGH: Early childhood programs feel they have absolutely no partners because the adult education programs now have run down a very, very different path. They're focused much more on higher-educated individuals, this idea that people will be entering community colleges and the like. And so they really lack partners at the local level that would help them meet these needs.

SANCHEZ: Getting adult education programs to work closer with preschool programs could turn out to be the key, says Bruce Fuller, a researcher at UC Berkeley. For example, says Fuller, the gains we've seen in Latinos' reading scores are directly tied to Latina moms' literacy gains.

BRUCE FULLER: As Latina mothers have increased their literacy both in Spanish and English, I would emphasize, that trickles down to their young kids.

SANCHEZ: Still, says Fuller, there is one weakness in this report.

FULLER: It sort of lets employers of the hook and says this is all the role of government, as opposed to big employers that could provide childcare and preschool support.

SANCHEZ: The report's co-author, Margie McHugh, says the last thing employers want to do is help subsidize what they view as a government program. So for now, says McHugh, it's the federal and state governments that need to rethink their preschool and adult education policies if they're to reach more immigrant families. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.