Key Questions

1. Prior to Chicago’s 2013 pre-k policy changes, what was the association between students’ likelihood of enrollment and 1) their distance to the closest school with any pre-k/full day pre-k, and 2) the number of any pre-k/full-day pre-k classrooms close to their home?

2. Post-policy, did access to any pre-k/full-day pre-k change for some or all students?

3. Post-policy, when access changed, did enrollment change in corresponding ways?

4. Post-policy, was access still related to enrollment in the same direction and with the same magnitude as it had been before?


As pre-kindergarten (pre-k) expands across the country, school districts are making choices about where to place pre-k classrooms and developing policies for how families can apply and who is enrolled. In doing so, districts are pulling policy levers that influence students’ access to pre-k. Research shows that some families have less access to pre-k than others, which contributes to inequitable enrollment within districts. This study explores whether and how Chicago’s school-based pre-k system was more equitable after the district implemented a set of policies focused on changing access to and enrollment in school-based pre-k. The outcomes from Chicago’s efforts offer key insights for other school districts implementing similar efforts nationwide.

Key Findings

  • Pre-policy, enrollment rates in any CPS pre-k was higher for students who lived closer to schools with pre-k and had more pre-k classrooms near where they lived.
  • Pre-policy, the associations of likelihood of enrollment in full-day pre-k with 1) distance to a school with a full-day pre-k classroom, and 2) number of full-day pre-k classrooms close to home were strongest for Black students and students living in lowest-income neighborhoods.
  • Pre-policy, the students most likely to enroll in full-day pre-k were White students and students living in highest-income neighborhoods.
  • For most student groups, distance to a school with any CPS pre-k did not change substantially and the number of pre-k classrooms available went slightly down.
  • In contrast to any pre-k, access to full-day pre-k increased following policy changes for nearly all student groups.
  • The portion of CPS elementary schools offering full-day pre-k quadrupled, from 10 percent to 41 percent
  • The concentration of full-day pre-k seats increased most on the West and South Sides of Chicago in primarily Black neighborhoods and neighborhoods with lower income.
  • Full-day pre-k enrollment rates grew nearly four-fold from 3.2 percent in 2010-11 to 11.6 percent in 2015-16.
  • Black students and students living in lowest-income neighborhoods were three times more likely to enroll in full-day pre-k following policy changes.
  • Latinx students were also more likely to enroll in full-day pre-k following policy changes, but at rates much lower than the city average (2.6 percent for Latinx students compared to 7.2 percent for all students).
  • Post-policy, access continued to predict enrollment in full-day pre-k. However, the association became stronger for Black students, lowest-income students, and for students living in mostly-Black neighborhoods.