Early Childhood Education:

What Are the Costs of High-Quality Programs?

HRD-90-43BR: Published: Jan 24, 1990. Publicly Released: Jan 24, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the cost of providing high-quality early childhood education, focusing on: (1) the estimated annual average cost per child; (2) a comparison between the annual salaries of public elementary school teachers and early childhood education teachers; and (3) the extent to which costs of a typical early childhood education center vary in response to changes in enrollment or teacher-student ratios.

GAO found that: (1) the average annual cost of high-quality early childhood education at the centers it surveyed was about $4,800 per child; (2) personnel costs accounted for 65 percent of total costs; (3) the average annual salary for early childhood education teachers was $14,100, which was substantially less than the average for public and private school teachers; (4) the average salary for teachers in rural areas was $3,300 less than teachers in urban areas; and (5) centers received an average of 69 percent of their income from parent fees. GAO also found that: (1) the annual cost per child decreased as enrollment increased; (2) the average cost per child increased as the teacher-student ratio increased; (3) wages for teachers and aides increased with additional years of education or experience; and (4) centers that enrolled more than the average percentage of handicapped children paid higher wages to both teachers and aides. GAO also examined the characteristics of the children enrolled in one-third of the centers surveyed, and found that: (1) at least 25 percent of the children enrolled were from low-income families; (2) one-fourth of the centers did not enroll low-income children; and (3) almost 70 percent of the centers enrolled one or more handicapped children.

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