Assistant Professor Jade Marcus Jenkins has been awarded a Spencer Foundation Grant to study state-mandated kindergarten and the returns of an additional year of schooling. Dr. Jenkins researches early childhood development policy. She focuses on issues that are amenable to policy intervention, using diverse methods to evaluate program effects and make causal inferences.
Policymakers at the federal and state levels aim to expand public early childhood education (ECE) programs, such as prekindergarten programs, with many states providing universal preschool to all age-eligible residents. Yet there exists limited evidence on how a universal ECE intervention like prekindergarten programs may influence the wellbeing of children in the long-run. To inform current ECE policy, this study examines the effects of a similar ECE intervention—state mandatory kindergarten requirements—on individual long-run educational attainment and labor market outcomes. While in most states kindergarten began as a voluntary program, starting in the 1970s some states evolved to mandating kindergarten attendance. Several changes in state mandatory school entrance laws across—and in some instances, within—states over time provide an opportunity to causally identify the influence of an additional year of ECE on individual’s long-run outcomes, comparing states with mandatory attendance to those with voluntary attendance. We exploit this natural experimental design using state-level data gathered from numerous sources, and individual-level data on educational and economic wellbeing from the restricted-use Census and ACS from 2000-2015. Study results will shed light on the anticipated impact of universal prekindergarten programs given the national trend towards preschool for all.