States and cities can and should use cost estimation models to better understand the true cost of providing high-quality, affordable early education and care. These models should, in turn, be used to set subsidy rates that support fair, living wages for educators and promote a sustainable business model for all types of early education settings. Research suggests there is a need for more accessible, affordable, and high-quality early education opportunities across the mixed-delivery system – and for better financial and professional supports for the educators who serve children and families each day; measuring and funding the true cost of care can help states and cities address these needs and achieve these goals.
Findings from the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) show:
- Families rely on a range of formal (e.g., Head Start, center-based care, public pre-K) and more informal (e.g., home-based, relative care) early education settings; when choosing a setting for their child, families balance many logistical constraints and personal preferences.
- But for many families – and especially low- and middle-income families – early education choices remain tightly constrained due to issues of affordability and supply.
- Early educators play a critical role in supporting the well-being of young children and families across setting types.
- Yet their pay, benefits, and other professional supports are often inadequate in light of the job demands and their cost of living.