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H. Secure Funding

At the local level, the cost of providing pre-k programs and the funding mechanisms used to finance them depends in large part on program design, the qualifications of staff, and the background of children served. Funding issues are complicated further because state and federal programs like Head Start and a state’s preschool program may only serve certain eligible students. Identifying and then securing the necessary funding to implement a high-quality program is one of the toughest pre-k challenges that school board members will face.

Did you know...85% of a child’s brain development takes place by the age of five?

While multiple funding streams exist that will support early education efforts, generally none of them are adequate or reliable enough to fulfill the needs of most communities. The most successful approach typically involves leveraging a mixture of local, state, and federal resources. To do this effectively, you need to know what is available at each level.


Most cities and towns can raise local tax revenues to help finance pre-k programs. Denver, for example, enacted a specialized sales tax; others have pursued more traditional property tax increases. Business taxes are another option to consider. In addition, some cities such as San Francisco have passed local ballot initiatives that require a portion of their general revenues be spent on early education.


In Fiscal Year 2008, forty states and the District of Columbia provided funding to support some type of public pre-k program. Only Oklahoma and Georgia, however, currently support universal access for all four-year olds. Most states allocate dollars through competitive or categorical grant programs that award funds to local service providers, including school districts.

In addition, eleven states and the District of Columbia now allocate pre-k funding through their school funding formulas. These states vary in how they fold pre-k into their formulas, and whether they cap the total amount of funds available or target specific groups of students. (See Tool Box)


Funds from a number of different federal education programs can be used to support pre-k efforts in school districts. These generally are not enough to sustain a full-time program in your district; however, they can be helpful in providing additional resources to improve or expand programs.

  • Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Part A funds may be used for preschool services for at-risk children within Title I-funded schools and school districts at the discretion of the school or school district.
  • Head Start: School districts are eligible grantees of this six billion dollar federal program. In addition, some states such as Illinois, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have developed significant collaborations between Head Start and state-funded pre-k programs.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Part C funds are set aside for three- and four-year olds to attend pre-k in a variety of settings.

School board members may also want to pursue philanthropic funding to support their initiative. Many local foundations have been known to support early education programs in their communities. In addition, national funders may be interested in providing help if there is something unique or compelling about your district’s efforts.

Although the addition of private funds can certainly help to get a program up and running, if there is not a long-term commitment to your program, they can pose challenges for sustainability in future years. School board members should also keep in mind that funding from outside sources can also create additional bureaucratic hurdles.

We gratefully acknowledge The Pew Charitable Trusts for its support of our work related to pre-kindergarten. The views expressed are those of the Center for Public Education and not necessarily those of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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