Child care programs may be publicly or privately funded, and offer child care and/or educational services to children.

Child care programs that receive public subsidies

Many American families enroll their preschool-aged children in publicly funded child care centers or child care homes. Some of these programs may, in practice, be considered pre-K programs[1] but are not required by state or federal law to meet pre-K standards. Child care programs receiving public funds may be supported by vouchers provided to low-income families or through state subsidies to providers serving at-risk children. To assist these families, states often use funds from federal programs, including the Child Care and Development Fund (which includes the Child Care and Development Block Grant [CCDBG]), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Social Services Block Grant. In many cases, the emphasis in these federal grant programs is on children’s health and safety, but some programs are evolving to focus on children’s cognitive and social development as well.

Many states are now developing monitoring systems called Quality Rating Improvement Systems (QRIS) that could enable parents and policymakers to determine which child care programs that receive public subsidies are providing high-quality educational experiences for children. These systems could be used to determine whether such programs should continue to receive public funds.

Privately funded programs

Because child care subsidies, Head Start, and many state-funded pre-K programs are open only to families with low incomes, many working families above the income-eligibility threshold must turn to private, tuition-based pre-K programs and child care centers for the care and early education and development of their children under the age of 5. These may be church-run preschools, parent-run preschools, preschools managed by non-profit organizations or for-profit child care centers, or preschool programs administered to small groups of children in homes. While it is likely that a significant portion of young children attend these types of programs, no system exists to track enrollments in privately funded programs.


1 Edcyclopedia defines pre-K as a program that employs trained teachers to lead daily educational experiences in a classroom or learning center for children who are a year or two away from kindergarten.

See also: Pre-Kindergarten