BOSTON (WHDH) - Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced a $20 million investment in early education by expanding Boston’s Universal Pre-K (UPK) program, a partnership between Boston Public Schools and the Office of Early Childhood Education.

The investment will allow Boston to expand support for community-based classrooms, increase the number of seats available to three and four-year-olds for the upcoming school year and begin integrating family child care providers into the UPK system.

The investment, Wu said, would hopefully make a dent in the state’s second-highest in the nation childcare costs. Applications are now open for new seats in the city’s program.

“Today we are reaffirming Boston’s commitment to becoming the most family-friendly city in the country,” Wu said in front of a Chinatown school Wednesday. “We know that every dollar invested in our youngest learners in universal pre-K and early education comes back tenfold for our community.”

Right now, there’s a lottery for students to get a spot in the BPS program. If they’re not granted a spot in the program, parents must turn to community centers. Between those two options, there are only about 3,100 seats combined.

Wu’s announcement adds nearly 400 more community center seats– all at no cost to parents. The $20 million investment goes toward paying providers.

“Many families with young children are forced to make impossible, unacceptable choices between quality care during some of the most formative years of their kids’ lives or making rent, buying groceries, or whether they can afford to stay in Boston at all,” Wu said.

Wu plans to invest part of the $20 million into 20 home daycare centers, another option for parents. In exchange for the funds, those locations will work with the city to help it design a pathway to bring them into the UPK network and create more free options for families down the road.

“Oftentimes, it’s our family-based centers that can create more flexible schedules, that offer multi-lingual services and care for low-income and immigrant families, and help us to diversify our care options across the city to help them meet the needs of our residents,” Wu said.

Eventually, Wu hopes to create a “one-stop shop” website where parents can apply for and see all available Pre-K options in one place.

“UPK makes it possible to pay excellent teachers a competitive salary, have regular, supportive coaching, and invest in our classrooms continually,” said Lauren Cook, Chief Executive Officer at Ellis Early Learning. “Our teachers appreciate the high-quality curriculum and are proud to be part of the UPK community. Our students are thriving, and parents are thrilled with our partnership with BPS. Our UPK classrooms set the bar internally and elevate our organization. We couldn’t be happier or more grateful to partner with BPS in this vital work.” 

A new per-classroom funding formula will be launched this upcoming school year to replace a per-student formula, ensuring high-quality learning environments for students and providing more financial and operational stability for child care providers.

“Providing per-classroom instead of per-child funding will provide stability for child care providers who have been greatly impacted by COVID,” said Kristin McSwain, Director of the Office of Early Childhood. “It will also allow many of them to extend their service hours beyond the required 6.5 to better meet the needs of working families.”

Boston UPK is now accepting applications for Pre-K seats at community-based providers for the 2022-2023 school year on a rolling basis. Eligible students must be Boston residents and must turn three or four years old on or before September 1, 2022. More information on the Boston UPK program and the application can be found at www.bostonpublicschools.org/upk. A list of the current community providers can be found here and can be viewed on a map here. Additional providers may be added in the coming weeks for the 2022-23 school year.

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