The NHES and CPS both show large stable differences in enrollment in private and public ECE for three- and four-year-old children by family income. At higher levels of income, children were more likely to be enrolled in private centers or those with a family payment than in public centers or those without a family payment. At lower levels of income, the opposite was true: children were more likely to be enrolled in public than private ECE. Figure 18 shows CPS data from 1995 to 2011 on public and private preschool enrollment by family income, highlighting these income trends. Low-income children (solid lines) were more likely to be enrolled in public preschool (blue) than private preschool (red). Whereas among higher-income children (dotted lines), the exact opposite was true: higher-income children were more likely across this time period to be in private preschools.
There was a substantial increase in public preschool enrollment between 1995 and 2011 among three- and four-year-olds in both low- and higher-income families; however, among higher-income preschoolers, there was a net substitution from private to public preschools from 1995 to 2011 (Figure 18). Children in higher-income families made a ten percentage point increase in public preschool enrollment (from 13 to 23 percent) during this time that was offset by a decrease of nearly the same magnitude in private preschool participation (45 to 36 percent). Among low-income preschoolers, there was an eight percentage point gain in public preschool participation (from 26 to 34 percent), but no statistically significant change in the rate of private enrollment. This led to an increase in preschool participation among low-income preschoolers from 36 percent of low-income children enrolled in either public or private preschool in 1995 to 42 percent enrollment by 2011.
Figure 19 also shows rates of participation in centers with and without family payment, by family income based on NHES data. Most of the children with families above 200 percent of the FPL used paid center care: more than five out of six higher-income children in center care were with a family payment. By contrast, between half and two-thirds of children with incomes below 200 percent of the FPL relied on public or non-paid center care. There was a larger increase in the use of centers without a family payment among children with family incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the FPL (from 16 to 22 percent) than among poor children (below 100 percent of the FPL) and children with incomes over 200 percent of the FPL, for whom there were no statistically significant changes in use of centers without a family payment. While there was an increase in overall preschool participation among children with family incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the FPL, there seemed to be some substitution away from centers with a family payment into those without a payment, similar to the trend we see in the CPS data from private to public preschools.
For infants and toddlers, unlike preschool-aged children, center care with a family payment, or private ECE, was more common for both low-income children and their higher-income peers. This may be a result of the relative lack of availability of public ECE options for infants and toddlers. Figure 20 shows that from 1995 to 2005, enrollment in centers with a family payment increased for families both above and below 200 percent of the FPL. For higher-income families, infant and toddler care in centers with a family payment grew rapidly, from 14 percent in 1995 to 22 percent by 2005. Low-income families also increased their use of paid center care in this period, though not as rapidly (from five to nine percent). There was no statistically significant change in the use of centers without a family payment for this age group, as this rate remained very low (5 percent or less) for all subgroups across this period.