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The impractical cost of preschool: Like kindergarten, concerns raised over achievement gap

July 6, 2018
Eli Sherman
GateHouse Media

As school ends and summer begins, families are busy making plans for the beach, backyard barbeques and weekend getaways.

But for some, specifically those with young children, the summer will be spent saving money to pay for next year’s preschool bill.

“The reality is that the cost of child care outpaces what families can afford,” said Kim Davenport, managing director of Birth to 3rd Grade Alignment at Edward Street Child Services, a nonprofit in Worcester. “It’s a huge percentage of families’ cost of living, so it becomes very difficult to make ends meet when they have one child and even more often when they have two.”

Without taxpayer support, Massachusetts families pay between $12,000 and $18,000 per child for preschool and early-childhood care per year. And while low-income families receive subsidies through programs, such as Head Start, advocates argue it’s not enough. For families that don’t qualify, there’s little support.

“The lower middle class is experiencing this challenge, especially as minimum wage rises,” Davenport said.

In 2016, the Economic Policy Institute reported early childcare expenses in Massachusetts exceed the cost for college. The think tank calculated the average annual cost for a 4-year-old totaled $12,781, which is nearly 20 percent more than the annual cost of in-state tuition for a four-year public college.

The expense is likely contributing to the fact that 67,470 — or about 30 percent — of preschool-age children in Massachusetts don’t currently receive any formal education, according to Strategies for Children. Titus DosRemedios, director of research and policy at the Boston nonprofit, says most families don’t have the means.

“Across Massachusetts, people are ready for more preschool,” DosRemedios said. “Parents want this learning opportunity for their children but often can’t afford it or are on waiting lists.”

Solving for the issue, however, isn’t simple, and a large part of it stems from cost.

Indeed, a similar dynamic played out with full-day kindergarten, which took years and millions of dollars to unravel. In 2000, 29 percent of kindergarten-age children attended full-day school, which most educators agree contributed to a significant achievement gap, echoing the argument made today for preschool expansion.