Early Care and Education (ECE) has the potential to improve children’s cognitive and social development in the early years prior to the start of formal schooling (National Association for the Education of Young Children, n.d.). This is particularly true for children from families of color with low-incomes, living in impoverished neighborhoods and who are English Language Learners, where early childhood education experiences outside of the home can improve children’s skills so that they are ready for school. Access to quality ECE is not universal, and is often lowest for low-income families, and families with children of color (Barnett, Carolan, and Johns, 2013). On average, children who participate in high-quality ECE programs gain about a third of a year of additional learning across language, reading, and math skills (Yoshikawa et al, 2013). From a financial standpoint alone, the return on investment in ECE is substantial. Evidence from a twenty-one year follow-up of children in the Title I Chicago Child-Parent Center Program reported that, overall, $7.10 was returned to society at large for every dollar invested in preschool (Reynolds, Temple, Robertson, and Mann, 2001). Studies of older, intensive interventions, such as the Perry Preschool Program, as well as other contemporary, large-scale public preschool programs, such as Tulsa’s preschool program, reveal a return on investment ranging from three to seven dollars saved for every dollar spent (Yoshikawa et al, 2013).
In Los Angeles County, as of 2011, the Los Angeles County Child Care Planning Committee estimated a need for an additional 31,000 spaces to serve eligible children who would benefit from a part-day preschool program (County of Los Angeles Office of Child Care, 2012). Gaps in access to ECE are “driven by the needs of multiple, specific populations, such as infants and toddlers, working families seeking full-day services, and low-income working families in need of subsidized child care (County of Los Angeles Office of Child Care, 2012, p. 11).” However, there is a need for more current information both at the countywide level and within specific high-need sub-county areas, particularly among the 14 Best Start Communities participating in First 5 LA’s place-based initiative.