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Children's absenteeism from pre-K to kindergarten: A focus on children receiving child care subsidies

Wendy S. Wei, Yoonsook Ha, Kate Giapponi Schneider, Pamela Joshi


July 31, 2023

High levels of pre-K absenteeism have been linked to adverse academic and social-emotional outcomes for students. Despite the negative impacts associated with absenteeism, there hasn’t been much research on young children receiving child care subsidies—who may be at greater risk for high absenteeism—nor on children in different types of early care and education (ECE) settings (namely family child care programs). The authors addressed this gap by:

  1. Documenting absenteeism rates in pre-K and kindergarten and by ECE program type
  2. Examining associations between pre-K and kindergarten absenteeism among children receiving child care subsidies
  3. Exploring the role of children’s ECE program type in these associations.

These questions are addressed using administrative data that included children who received child care subsidies during the pre-K year and then transitioned to public kindergarten in Massachusetts. The study’s findings revealed that absenteeism is high among children receiving subsidies, with 32 percent of children absent for 10 percent or more (i.e., chronically absent) of the pre-K year and 16 percent who were subsequently chronically absent during the kindergarten year. Results also showed that pre-K absenteeism was one of the strongest predictors associated with subsequent kindergarten absenteeism for children receiving subsidies, where children with higher levels of pre-K absenteeism were more likely to have higher levels of kindergarten absenteeism. That said, pre-K absenteeism was higher for children in center-based care programs than in family child care programs, but the opposite was true for kindergarten absenteeism.

These findings highlight how absenteeism is pervasive among these children, which has important implications not only for their developmental outcomes but also the broader ECE subsidy ecosystem (e.g., parents’ employment and education status, ECE providers’ financial stability). Moreover, associations between pre-K and kindergarten absenteeism also highlight the importance of addressing absenteeism as early as possible to mitigate the adverse consequences associated with absenteeism. Specifically, these findings suggest the need for a centralized data system that can support comprehensive tracking and understanding of attendance across the ECE and public school sectors in easy-to-use formats.