Blueprint for Quality Preschool

Topic: Outcomes

When you meet with a contractor to build a house, what is the first question you’re compelled to ask? Is it “How much is this going cost?” or maybe “How long is this going to take?”

Of course, the contractor is likely to respond with something like: “Well, that depends. What kind of house do you want? How many people are going to live there? One story or two? Do you want it built with solid materials to last a long time, or do you want it built quickly and cheaply? What accommodations will you need for the people living in the house?”

Of course, the contractor’s list of questions would be much longer and more detailed, but each question would need to be answered thoughtfully before an accurate cost estimate could be calculated. The logic behind this process is easy to understand.

Does this same logic hold true when designing a state-funded preschool program? Absolutely, and that’s why we developed the new Cost of Preschool Quality & Revenue calculator–CPQ&R 4.0.

Building or expanding a state-funded preschool program requires careful consideration of many moving parts, and calculating an accurate cost estimate depends heavily on the kind of program you want to build. The process can seem overwhelming, but the CPQR 4.0 can assist states with this process. Like a contractor building a house, the CPQ&R lays out critical questions to ensure the program design meets your needs, and cost estimates accurately reflect necessary specifications.

Earlier this month, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) published a revamped CPQ&R, enhanced with additional research to estimate costs of state preschool programs.  As with past versions, the tool is grounded in NIEER’s quality standards, and defaults to estimate the cost of meeting all 10 benchmarks.

New features include additional state-specific data for cost drivers such as building space/real estate, tuition for educator scholarships, costs associated with staff turnover, and refined estimates for coaching costs. Almost 20 elements were updated with recent state- and national-level research, allowing the CPQ&R 4.0 to provide even more accurate cost estimates for states looking to improve and/or expand state-funded preschool programs.

When developing state preschool programs, a wise man once told me, you must first envision the outcomes you want to see, then the program standards needed to attain those outcomes, and then use those standards to determine the financial investment needed to meet them. (OK, full disclosure, that wise man was NIEER Founder and Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett.) The CPQ&R was designed to help states follow this logic to ensure cost estimates accurately reflect program standards.

Just like a reliable contractor, the CPQ&R asks the right questions. Using the CPQ&R helps answer “How much is this going to cost?” and “How long is this going to take?” more quickly, and without losing the integrity of the standards needed to achieve your ultimate outcomes.

Unlike a good contractor, however, the CPQ&R 4.0 is free. The Excel-based tool is available to anyone completing the CPQ&R licensing agreement and user request questionnaire, and CEELO/NIEER staff are available to provide technical assistance to state agencies and advocates using the tool to develop cost estimates.


Karin Garver is an Early Childhood Education Policy Specialist at NIEER, where she focuses on national policy trends related to state-funded preschool programs, with particular interest in data systems, systems integration, and preschool finance. Before coming to NIEER, Karin spent almost 16 years with the NJ Department of Education, where she served as Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief Academic Officer, and held several positions within the Division of Early Childhood Education.

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