There are 144,309 children age 4 in Ohio. Two percent of them are enrolled in preschool, which includes state preschool, Head Start, and special education preschool services, but does not include privately funded or locally funded preschool programs. The percentage enrolled in federal Head Start programs is 12 percent. Five percent are enrolled in special education preschool services. Of the total, 116,712 4-year-olds or about 81 percent are not enrolled in a publicly funded program.

These figures for Ohio are contained in a new report released Tuesday by the U.S Department of Education that details the unmet need among the 50 states for high-quality preschool programs.

Titled “A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America,” the report says of the approximately 4 million 4-year olds in the Unites States, about 60 percent – or nearly 2.5 million – are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs. Released by the White House today, the report highlights the need for an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that expands access to high-quality early learning opportunities and makes the law preschool through 12th grade, rather than K-12.

In Phoenix, Arizona today, Sec. Duncan said, “This new report shows that we are a long way from achieving full educational opportunity in this country. Students have made enormous progress in recent years, thanks to the hard work of educators, families and the students themselves, but we have so much farther to go, and making high-quality preschool available to all families who want it must be part of that.” Duncan added that investments in early learning have been made, but expanding access to high-quality preschool within the reauthorization of ESEA will narrow achievement gaps. This, he said, will “reflect the real, scientific understanding that learning begins long before a child enters kindergarten.”

Too many children still do not have access to these programs, especially Latinos, the fastest growing and largest minority group, which account for a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds. Their rate of 40 percent, when compared to 50 percent for African-American children, and 53 percent for white children, is sub par. No surprise here, children from low-income families are less likely to be enrolled in preschool than their peers–41 percent compared to 61 percent. African-American children and children from low-income families are the most likely to be in low-quality settings and the least likely to be in high-quality settings, the report notes.

Explaining the educational gap among races, white students have higher reading and math scores than students of color. Scores on reading and math were lowest for kindergartners in households with incomes below the federal poverty level and highest for those in households with incomes at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Children at risk for academic failure, on average, start kindergarten 12 to 14 months behind their peers in pre-literacy and language skills. Without access to quality preschool, the research suggests “students of color, and children from low-income families, are far less likely to be prepared to start kindergarten than their peers.”

Making the economic argument for more pre-school access, the White House Council of Economic Advisors December 2014 report says benefits to society are $8.60 for every $1 spent. Those figures factor in increased earnings for children when they grow up. Gallup polling shows 70 percent of voters said they would support increasing federal funding to make sure high-quality preschool programs are available for every child in America. Grants through the Obama Administration from its Early Learning Challenge and the Preschool Development Grants programs are helping states be prepared for the proposed Preschool for All program. In its FY2016 budget to Congress, the White House is asking for an increase of $500 million for Preschool Development Grants to expand this opportunity to more states and the Bureau of Indian Education, tribal educational agencies, territories, and the outlying areas.

To help support state efforts to build or enhance their infrastructure to provide high-quality preschool programs and expand programs in high-need communities, $250 million in federal funding has been awarded to 18 states so more than 33,000 additional children in 200 high-need communities can gain access to high-quality preschool. With additional funding, USDOE said it could have provided high-quality opportunities for many more children in the 36 states that applied.