New Tool Costs Out Quality Pre-K

The Institute for Women's Policy Research and Early Childhood Policy Research has developed a quality based, cost estimation model to determine a per-child estimate for pre-K programs. Grantees may find this article useful in benchmarking pre-K program costs.

 

Model Enables Policymakers to Estimate Per-Child Costs Across 12 Levels of Quality

Those bright-eyed youngsters walking through the pre-K doors for the first time are an eager bunch—eager to explore, learn, and hopefully acquire skills that will benefit them over a lifetime. The extent to which those long-term gains occur depends in great part on program quality. And, quality costs money. Having an authoritative handle on the costs of various quality components and the ability to run scenarios to determine what yields the best bang for the buck can be a tremendous help.

Help has arrived by way of a cost estimation model developed by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) and Early Childhood Policy Research (ECPR) that enables policymakers to determine a per-child estimate for pre-K programs across 12 levels of quality.

The estimation model is based on a study that assumes all high-quality pre-K programs should possess the characteristics that provide benefits to children and families according to IWPR's report, Meaningful Investments in Pre-K. "The estimated costs of a six-hours-per-day program range from $5.17 per child hour at the lowest-quality level, to $8.18 per child hour at the highest level," says Barbara Gault, primary author of the study. Those costs in annual terms showed the lowest-quality program would cost about $5,741 per child and the highest-quality program would cost about $9,076 per child.

Gault cautions that the actual costs for different quality improvements depend upon each state's current pre-K costs, quality level, and program design and goals. Still, the cost grids provide a general guide to assess the potential change in costs for moving from one level of quality to the next.

For example, the report pointed out that:

  • Reducing the class size of a six-hour program with BA teachers with early childhood credentials and paid at typical pre-K level wages from 20 to 15 would increase a state's per-child-hour costs by approximately 20.5 percent.
  • If that same program kept class sizes at 20 but improved teacher quality to BA degreed teachers with early childhood credentials but paid at typical kindergarten teacher levels, the per-child-hour costs increased by about 11.3 percent.

On the other hand, according to the report:

  • A six-hour program with a maximum class size of 20 led by teachers with child development associate (CDA) credentials would cost only 18.3 percent more by reducing class size to 15.
  • The same 20-child class that improved teacher quality to the highest level would result in a 29.8 percent increase in per-child-hour costs.

The cost estimates considered the cost of quality based on three class sizes—20, 17 and 15 children per classroom as well as four teacher qualification/pay levels ranging from a bachelor-degree-holding teacher with early childhood credentials paid at typical kindergarten teacher levels to a teacher with a CDA credential. The cost analysis calculated the per-child cost of each of the 12 levels of quality for three-, six- and nine-hours-per-day pre-K programs. The estimates are based on a 185-day program. The hours-per-day options included in the study were a half-day with two daily sessions at three hours each; a school-day session of six hours; and a nine-hour workday session.

Table 1: summarizes per-child costs on a per-hour and per-year basis for each combination of teacher-qualification/pay, class size, and hours per day. The complete report is available on IWPR's website: www.iwpr.org.

Table 1: Summary of Costs Per-Child/Hour and Per-Child/Year by Quality Level


Per-Child, Per-Hour Costs Annual Per-Child Costs 185 days per year
Class size 15 17 20 15 17 20
Teacher Qualifications 3-Hour Program
Bachelor's Degree I $8.82 $8.12 $7.33 $4,893 $4,506 $4,071
Bachelor's Degree II $7.91 $7.32 $6.66 $4,390 $4,062 $3,694
Associate's Degree $7.11 $6.62 $6.06 $3,947 $3,672 $3,361
CDA $6.76 $6.30 $5.79 $3,751 $3,499 $3,214
Teacher Qualifications 6 Hour Program
Bachelor's Degree I $8.18 $7.49 $6.72 $9,076 $8,313 $7,454
Bachelor's Degree II $7.27 $6.69 $6.04 $8,070 $7,425 $6,700
Associate's Degree $6.47 $5.99 $5.44 $7,184 $6,643 $6,035
CDA $6.12 $5.67 $5.17 $6,792 $6,298 $5,741
Teacher Qualifications 9-Hour Program
Bachelor's Degree I $8.20 $7.42 $6.54 $13,649 $12,348 $10,884
Bachelor's Degree II $7.14 $6.48 $5.74 $11,889 $10,795 $9,564
Associate's Degree $6.21 $5.66 $5.05 $10,338 $9,427 $8,401
CDA $5.80 $5.30 $4.74 $9,652 $8,821 $7,887

Source: Pre-K Now, using IWPR calculations.
Notes: 1) Costs include direct and indirect service costs and system infrastructure costs except workforce development.
2) Data on teachers' salaries come from the "National Prekindergarten Study" (Gilliam 2006) and U.S. Department of Labor,
Bureau of Labor Statistics 2007b (for Bachelor's Degree I).


"New Tool Costs Out Quality Pre-K." Preschool matters. NIEER. 2008. English.

Last Reviewed: March 2012

Last Updated: September 8, 2015