If your child is headed to preschool next year, you’re not alone if you feel overwhelmed as you navigate the selection process. Cities and states have a diverse and dizzying array of programs: Head Start and other government-funded programs for low-income families; private programs of many stripes and price points; free or low-cost classrooms in public schools, sometimes guaranteed and sometimes secured by lottery.
On the one hand, that means choice and flexibility, at least for families fortunate enough to have time, resources, and options. On the other, it can be confusing and stressful, not just for families but for programs, which face the hair-raising challenge of making their balance sheets work. Directors try to keep tuition affordable, but their teachers are already woefully underpaid. Public-school pre-K programs alleviate financial burdens for families, but exacerbate them for private programs by shrinking the pool of four-year-olds.
So how do you pick the right spot for your child — or assess the program your child already attends?