(FOXNEWS) — The expansion in public prekindergarten programs has slowed and even been reversed in some states as school districts cope with shrinking budgets. As a result, many 3- and 4-year-olds aren’t going to preschool.

Kids from low-income families who start kindergarten without first attending a quality education program enter school an estimated 18 months behind their peers. Many never catch up, and research shows they are more likely to need special education services and to drop out. Kids in families with higher incomes also can benefit from early education, research shows.

Yet, roughly a quarter of the nation’s 4-year-olds and more than half of 3-year-olds attend no preschool, either public or private. Families who earn about $40,000 to $50,000 annually face the greatest difficulties because they make too much to quality for many publicly funded programs, but can’t afford private ones, said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

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