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Early childhood education takes numerous forms. Below we list some of the most prevalent ones. Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and that many of the terms are not universally accepted. (For example, some people draw a distinction between the terms “preschool” and “pre-kindergarten,” but we do not.) Terminology and definitions often vary by time and place; acknowledging this fact, we have sought to use the most common terms here.


What it is: 38 states offer free, state-funded preschool programs to children, most targeted at low-income families, but some open to all.

Enrollment: About 1.1 million children. Twenty-four percent of 4-year-olds and four percent of 3-year-olds attend state-funded preschool.

Funding: Total state funding for preschool is $4.6 billion.

Spending per child: $4,609 on average, including money from state, local and federal sources.

Teachers: 27 states require lead teachers in pre-k programs to have bachelor’s degrees.


What it is: A federally-funded school readiness program for 3- and 4-year-olds from families with incomes up to 130 percent of the poverty line.

Enrollment: About 908,000 children.

Funding: About $7 billion a year (for Head Start and Early Head Start). The economic stimulus package gave Head Start an extra $1 billion in 2009.

Spending per child: $7,326 on average.

Teachers: By 2013, half of all lead teachers and education coordinators will be required to have bachelor’s or advanced degrees in childhood education, and all teaching assistants must have associate degrees.


What it is: A federally-funded child development program for infants and toddlers, zero to age 3, and pregnant women.

Enrollment: 62,000 infants, toddlers and pregnant women.

Funding: About $7 billion a year (for Head Start and Early Head Start). The economic stimulus package gave Early Head Start an extra $1.1 billion in 2009.

Spending per child: $10,500 on average.

Teachers: By September 2010, all teachers in Early Head Start must have a child development associate (CDA) credential.


What it is: Subsidized child care for low-income families. Some programs that emphasize school readiness resemble Head Start or state-funded pre-k.

Funding: $5 billion from the federal Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), which states often supplement with funds from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), formerly called welfare, and Social Services Block Grants. The 2009 economic stimulus package added $2 billion to the child care fund.


What it is: Child care offered in an individual’s home for his or her own and/or unrelated children.

Funding: In some states, like California, low-income parents can use federal vouchers to pay for care by family members.


What it is: Many religious institutions run preschools; some include a religious component to the curriculum.

Funding: While churches in some states, like Georgia and Florida, may be eligible for state grants to support their programs, instruction during the hours covered by state dollars must be entirely secular.


What it is: For-profit and nonprofit child care centers, day care and nursery schools. They may be part of a national chain or mom-and-pop operations.

Spending per child: Tuition fees range from a few thousand dollars a year to $35,000 for pre-k attached to elite prep schools in places like New York City

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