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1 in 4 Mass. 4-year-olds enrolled in publicly funded preschool

Public preschool attendance varies dramatically by state, report finds

Only a quarter of Massachusetts 4-year-olds attended publicly funded preschool programs during the 2012-13 academic year, according to an US Department of Education report released this week.

Nationwide, about 40 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in these programs, which include state preschool, Head Start, and special education services, the report found.

In New England, Vermont and Maine exceeded the national average for public preschool enrollment with 80 percent of Vermont 4-year-olds enrolled in public preschool programs and 52 percent in Maine.

Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire joined Massachusetts in enrolling below the national average, with 26, 19, and 12 percent, respectively.

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States with the highest levels of enrollment in public preschool included Florida and Oklahoma, which served 89 and 87 percent, respectively, of their preschool-aged students, the report found. All of the 4-year-olds in the District of Columbia attended public preschool.

The report called for increased investment in high-quality early education programs across the country.

“This new report shows that we are a long way from achieving full educational opportunity in this country,” said US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. “Students have made enormous progress in recent years... but we have so much farther to go, and making high-quality preschool available to all families who want it must be part of that.”

Data presented in the education department’s report did not include 4-year-olds enrolled in private preschool programs.

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care is focused on providing high-quality early education and learning to the commonwealth’s young children, said the department’s spokeswoman Kathleen Hart in a statement.

The early education department sends about 18,000 preschool-age children to licensed programs each year, Hart said.

Additionally, Massachusetts received a Preschool Development Grant from the federal education department in December, which allocated $15 million to enroll 750 4-year-olds from some of the state’s cities in preschool.

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Catherine Cloutier can be reached at catherine.cloutier@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cmcloutier.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of children sent to licensed preschool programs by the state’s early education department.