In 2012, a year of full-time center-based preschool was comparable to public college tuition. The annual cost of daycare for the typical 4-year-old is more than 10 percent of the average family's annual income in 21 states and Washington, D.C., according to Child Care Aware of America. If the cost of preschool is out of your reach, scholarships can provide free funds to help offset the price.
Scholarship funders range from government agencies to private donors and businesses. On a national level, Head Start provides funding for roughly 1,700 private and public schools and agencies across the country. Grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services make it possible for Head Start centers to offer free or reduced cost preschool programs to families who meet the federal poverty guidelines income requirements.
Some local counties offer scholarships for early childhood education. To qualify, the families applying must live within the county and provide proof of residency. Specific scholarship requirements vary by location but may limit the use of scholarship funds to a list of approved preschool programs. For example, the Scott County Kids Early Childhood Iowa Preschool Scholarship pays for up to 30 hours a week of preschool services for families who meet the income requirements. Likewise, in Michigan, the Calhoun County 3 Year Old Scholarship Program provides free funds for qualifying in-county preschoolers.
Local Businesses and Foundations
Local businesses and organizations in your city or town may offer scholarships for preschool programs. For example, in Pennsylvania, the Lifesteps Pre-Kindergarten Scholarship Program relies on local businesses to donate to the scholarship fund or directly to the schools themselves. The Contra Costa preschool scholarship in Concord, California, receives its funds from a local charitable organization -- the Thomas J. Long Foundation.
A preschool scholarship may cover either the full or partial cost of an early childhood education. Depending on the specific scholarship, the program may fund a full-day stay or it may give only enough money for part-day care. Additional costs such as the child's lunches or materials needed for preschool aren't typically included in scholarship funds. That said, some preschools -- especially those in public school districts -- may have federal- or state-funded breakfast and lunch programs that provide food during the school day at no cost.
Even though each scholarship has its own individual requirements, eligibility for preschool funds is often based on income. For example, the Hearing Speech and Deafness Center in Washington has a preschool scholarship that is based on family size and income. To qualify, you must submit proof of income such as tax documentation or pay stubs from your employer. Many preschool scholarships, such as the HSDC's, use the national Federal Poverty Guidelines to base their decision on. Likewise, Head Start centers also use the Federal Poverty Guidelines for program eligibility.
Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.