The cost of early education

Barbara Jo Warner has no problem finding parents eager to enroll their children in her Hartford preschool. But some of these parents do have a hard time figuring out where they are going to find $13,000 a year to send their child to the school.


U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy with Mary Rose Duberek with her son before preschool starts

“They come in here and take a tour and are so excited until they find out it’s $245 a week and realize they can’t afford that… It’s pretty common,” said Warner, the enrollment director of the 64-student child care center. By no means are the rates Capitol Child Development Center charges outliers.

survey of 137 home day care and preschool programs conducted by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy’s office shows that, on average, it costs a parent $12,646 to send one child to preschool each year and $10,254 to send him to a home day care.

“When [my son] goes off to school next year, we are going to be saving a lot of money,” said Mary Rose Duberek, whose son attends the Hartford preschool. She said she can afford the preschool because she only has one son, and she and her husband waited until they were older to have a child. “We are lucky… It’s a big chunk of anyone’s income.”

In an effort to make preschool a little more affordable, Murphy plans to introduce a bill next week in Congress that would allow families to not pay taxes on up to $10,000 that they spend on preschool and child care. This would double the amount families could put into non-taxable spending accounts, and Murphy said for the average state resident it would mean not paying $2,500 in federal taxes on that income.

“It will help,” Murphy said of the many parents struggling to afford to send their children to quality preschool programs.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that families spend no more than 10 percent of their income on child care, but Murphy’s report notes that many families in the state would have a hard time doing that with preschool on average costing almost $13,000 a year.

Warner said rapidly increasing insurance costs are the main culprit in the rising costs of providing child care. The main cost is also hiring high-quality teachers who have college degrees in early education studies.

“We could cut our costs, but it’s going to affect the quality of the staff,” she said.

The state has set a deadline that requires every teacher in state-subsidized preschool programs to have a college degree by 2015, a move that is expected to drastically drive up the costs of preschool programs as teachers will expect to be paid more.

“It’s salaries that are driving our costs here,” Murphy said. “There’s no question those costs will trickle down.”

The cost of early care varies widely by location. New London programs cost on average $7,800 a year, or $150 a week — compared to Stamford at $15,782, or $304 a week.

No matter the location, the higher-quality programs are going to cost more, said Duberek of her choice to spend nearly $13,000 a year for her son to attend the highly regarded Hartford preschool where a lot of state officials also send their children.

“We’re paying for quality,” Duberek said.

The state spends around $225 million each year to bring down the cost of early child care. About one-third of the children at the Hartford preschool receive state subsidies. However, thousands of children — 6,400 students last school year — are still showing up for kindergarten classes having spent no time in a preschool. Half were from the state’s 19 poorest districts, reports the State Department of Education.