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Rural preschoolers get short shrift in access to early education programs

Numerous studies have shown that children who attend high-quality preschools fare better in school and have brighter job prospects later in life. That's a big reason why New York state funds pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs for 4-year-olds.

But for rural tots in low-income communities, it's a different story: Only about one-quarter (26 percent) of these children, 4-years-old and younger, can be served by state-regulated early education programs in their areas, compared with almost half (44 percent) of poor urban/suburban young children, according to three Cornell researchers.

They conducted the first comprehensive look at the early care and education system in New York state -- with a special focus on rural communities.

"We know from 30 years of research that high-quality pre-K and early child care makes children more prepared to start school and more likely to have school success," says John Sipple, Cornell associate professor of education and first author of the publication. "But we're finding substantial differences in the availability of such programs for children in poor urban and suburban communities, compared with children in poor rural areas. Without these early experiences children may start school unprepared, and so they are less likely to finish school, perpetuating a cycle for kids growing up in poor rural areas."

Sipple and colleagues published a summary of their findings in the January issue of the Research and Policy Brief Series from Cornell's Community and Rural Development Institute.

They report, for example, that New York's state-funded pre-K program serves 40 percent of 4-year-olds in high-need suburban and urban school districts but only 30 percent of the 4-year-olds in high-need rural school districts. These findings highlight an important need in rural communities that is especially relevant given New York's recent efforts to increase access to early education for 4-year-olds through its pre-K program.

The policy paper is a summary of a 40-page research report that Sipple and co-authors Lisa McCabe, associate director of Cornell's Early Childhood Program, and Judith Ross-Bernstein, senior lecturer in human development, conducted for the New York State Rural Education Advisory Committee with funding from the New York State Legislature obtained by the NYS Legislative Commission on Rural Resources.

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