Financing Access to Early Education for Children Age Four and Below: Concepts and Costs

In this paper I consider alternative approaches to defining universal access to
early learning experiences, and consider the costs of alternative ways to make
such access affordable to low, moderate and middle income families. The
elements of what constitutes high quality early care and education (ECE) are
specified, as is the methodology for moving from unit costs of providing such
services to the budgetary costs of an entire high quality system. I argue that the
most cost-effective policy is to make high quality ECE available for all children
birth through five. A financing approach combining a subsidy to providers that is
not related to the income of particular children, with an income-related voucher
for parents can make early learning experiences affordable for all families at a
relatively modest national commitment, with an investment equivalent to about 6
to 13 percent of current public elementary and secondary education spending.
The wide range of costs reflects uncertainty in the research literature to guide
many policy choices, suggesting the need for state experimentation and variation.

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These working papers have been prepared for the conference “Creating a National Plan for the Education of 4-Year Olds.” They have not been through a formal review process and should be considered drafts. Do not cite or distribute these papers.