The preschool application process for kids three to five is quite an eye opener for many parents. If you’re like me, you had no idea that getting your child into her first preschool program could be just about as involved as applying to college. Enjoy this updated article about how to afford tuition more easily.
When to Start Looking
In many areas, the demand for preschool outpaces supply, so it pays to start your research early. I’ve heard stories of some parents putting their children on the preschool waiting list before they were born! Hopefully things won’t be so extreme in your town. Still, it’s smart to start researching preschools a year ahead and plan on touring schools and submitting applications at the beginning of the year in which you’d like your child to start. Most schools offer open houses and enrollment periods as early as January.
Accompanying the question of how to get your child into a good program (for most of us anyway), is the equally important consideration of how you’ll afford it.
A recent survey of Parents magazine readers who use child care reveals that 84 percent of surveyed parents feel that finding affordable, quality care is either a challenge, very hard, or impossible. And yet despite the challenge of finding affordable care “only about 23 percent of moms and 3 percent of dads stay home full-time with their kids.”
It’s no wonder parents have a hard time. Preschool tuition costs generally run anywhere from about $250 to $1000 per month. That’s $3000 to $12,000 a year. Yikes! That price varies wildly according to your region, the type of preschool and the number of hours per week your child will attend.
Some types of childcare tend to be more affordable than others. Church-based preschools are some of the most affordable schools around. Whereas a local Montessori school in my area charged around $1000 a month, the church-based school we loved charged less than $300. Co-ops tend to be more affordable, too, but require a time commitment from parents. Even if your school’s not a co-op, see if you can work off a portion of your tuition by spending a few hours per week at the school.
The cost of full time care for a pre-K kiddo in my state (Georgia) is around $500 a month. You can find out average childcare expenses in your state here (.pdf) Note: The cost may be more manageable if you can pay in installments. Look for a school that lets you pay monthly rather than asking for a year’s tuition up front or in two payments.
Important Questions for Potential Schools
Schools are pretty upfront about how much they charge. Still, there are a few crucial questions you should ask potential schools before you make any committments. They’ll help you avoid sticker shock later.
- Ask about scholarships and tuition assistance.
- Ask if you can get a discount when you enroll more than one child at a time.
- Ask about activity and materials fees and any other fees beyond tuition that you’ll be asked to pay.
Money Savers to Know About
Hopefully, your family can take advantage of at least one of the money savers below:
- Does your state have a state-funded pre-K program? Kids attend participating local public schools or childcare centers. Unfortunately, in areas where participation is voluntary, there may not be enough spaces in every community for all four year olds who wish to participate. In fact, State-funded pre-k programs currently serve only a quarter of the four year olds and 4 percent of three year olds in the U.S. according to advocacy group Pre-K Now. Apply for your area’s pre-k program as early as possible to increase your chances of getting a slot.
- There may be tuition assistance you don’t even know about. Check with your human resources department at work to see if they offer childcare benefits.
- Depending on your family’s income and tax situation, you may be able to claim up to 35% of your childcare costs.using the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
- There may be special assistance for military families in your area. Find out more here. In some states, there’s also childcare assistance for veterans.
Still can’t afford preschool?
Head Start programs, run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, help lower income families afford preschool. Due to funding shortfalls, Head Start spaces are limited, and you’ll want to get in line as soon as possible. Find out when your area’s program begins accepting applications. Learn more about Head Start here.
Check into government subsidized childcare assistance for low income families by contacting your local or state government (Google the name of your state plus “government subsidized childcare assistance” to find out exactly who to contact). In my area, the programs are administered by the Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS). Tuition may be covered completely, or you may pay a sliding fee based on income. Some areas offer short term childcare assistance to help you deal with financial emergencies.
Good luck! They’ll be in first grade before you know it. Trust me! *Sniff!*
Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments!