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How Universal Pre-K Drives Up Families’ Infant-Care Costs

An unintended consequence of free school programs for three- and four-year-olds is a reduction in the supply of affordable child care for kids younger than two.
A daycare provider reads to students in New York City.
A daycare provider reads to students in New York City.Courtesy Angela Salas

Bronx daycare owner Angela Salas suspects it’s no coincidence that ever since New York City’s fre­e preschool program for three-year-olds arrived in her borough, her popular home-based child-care program has struggled.

It’s not for a lack of demand, says Salas: Her family daycare is as sought after as ever, with parents paying up to $385 a week. But with new, free public preschool available for three- and four-year-olds less than two miles away, the kids enrolling in Salas’s home-based program are now almost all very young. This makes for a costly business, as state regulation requires much heavier staffing for babies and toddlers than it does for older children. “I need to keep the three-year-olds in order to survive,” says Salas.